7-14-2002

Title: Introducing... a not-so-new girl
Author: Maiki-hime (maikihime@yahoo.com)
Category: Hmm... Romance?
Status: Finished multi-part fic, the first installment of the "Hillary's appearance" story arc. Posted in July, 2002.
Disclaimers: You all know the drill, right? The GW characters belong to their rightful owners and I'm using them without permission, no profits in sight. This fic is mine (not that anyone would want it...).
Labels/Warnings: OOC (^_^;;;). AU (?). TWT. Non-yaoi (sort of... can you guess why? ^_^). Angst. Sap. Duo's POV. Original characters making quick but important appearances here and there.
Pairings: Well, I've finally made up my mind... have I really? 5+2.
Spoilers: Mention of things that happened in Duo's Episode Zero, twisted to fit the fic, and some small spoilers for the beginning of the TV series.
Archive: Sometime in the future, I'll have a webpage in which I'll put this on. In the meantime, if anyone wants this, please contact me first.
Feedback: Yes, please, criticisms and comments are welcome. You can reach me through the GWML or at maikihime@yahoo.com Author's notes: Phew, finally the end! Well, not really, but at least this one's finished! Tell me what you think! Oh, and before someone asks... the pairing surprised me, too!

 

* = emphasis
/ = italics (thoughts, special words and events, etc.)
[ ] = author's in-fic notes

***

PART ONE: The secret

 

My disguise was perfect. Had always been, ever since I came to Earth. And no one ever suspected anything... until now, that is.

But now I have to bear with the consequences, and I'm the only one to blame for his suspecting of my secret. After all, *I* was the careless one who left the evidence out in the open, just waiting to be found.

Had my carelessness been generated by a subconscious desire to be found out? I don't know, and I truly hope it's not it. Just to be sure, I make a mental review of my entire life while I sit here on my bed, waiting to see if he will voice his suspicions or keep them inside his head. He'll hesitate, I just know it. And I truly can't blame him.

After all, who would have ever thought that Duo Maxwell, the loudmouthed fool with a long braid and deep voice, was a girl?

***

It started simply enough: I was very young, and very ignorant. So much, that I only learned the differences between boys and girls when I joined Solo's gang. I knew there *were* differences, just didn't know what they were.

I had always thought of myself as 'brat' or 'kid': those were the words commonly used when the adults referred to me... guess not even them bothered with finding out my gender. When I joined Solo and the other kids, mostly boys, I simply told I was one of them; they thought I was referring to their gender, and assumed I was a boy as well.

Only after some time Solo found out I was a girl. I don't remember exactly how, but we ended up alone in one of the alleyways. I had to pee, so I lowered my pants, crouched down in one corner far away from Solo, and just did it. I didn't notice he was watching me, so it came as a big surprise when he yanked me up just after I finished and looked incredulously at my naked crotch.

"What the--! You're a girl!"

I glared at him. "I'm not!"

He pointed at me. "Of course you are! You don't have a cock!"

I blinked, somewhat surprised. "What does it have to do with it? I don't need a bird."

If he weren't so surprised, I think he would have rolled his eyes. For that is what, every time I remember that, I do.

"Not a bird! A cock! A dick! A... a penis!"

I blinked again, then pointed at his own crotch. "Oh... you mean that ugly thing you have hanging down there?"

This time he *did* roll his eyes. "Hey, no insulting me here! But yeah, *that* thing!" I shook my head, and he sighed. "If you don't have a cock, it means you're a girl. You lied to us when you said you were one of us boys."

I suddenly became angry. "I didn't lie! I told I was one of you *kids*! No one ever asked me if I was a boy or a girl!"

Solo examined those words. They were true. "All right. But now we know you're a girl."

I shook my head again. "*You* think I'm a girl. I still say that I'm not."

He opened his mouth, but I cut him before he could speak. "I don't want to be a girl. I can see how the other boys treat them. I see how *you* treat them. It's as if they were different from the others."

"They are. The girls are weaker, we have to take care of them."

I glared at him again. "And that's why I'm not a girl. I'm not weak! I can run as fast as you do, steal as much as you do and I'm just as strong as you are! So, if you're boys, I'm a boy too!"

Solo paused again. After a moment of silent contemplation, he smirked. "All right, you win this one, *boy*. I won't tell anyone about this. But, if you want to keep the story going, you'll have to take care. And that means you'll have to keep your pants up." He pointed at my feet, and I realized my pants were still down, pooling around my ankles. I quickly pulled them up, and he smirked again.

He kept his promise, and never told anyone. But he didn't want to truly lie in front of the others, so instead of calling me 'boy', like that day, he started calling me 'kid'. No problem.

The other kids never suspected anything, and even after Solo died and I took his place in our small gang, they always thought I was a boy. It went on that way until Father Maxwell took us in.

I managed to deceive Father Maxwell and Sister Helen for quite some time. Many of the kids in my old gang had already left, adopted by unknown families, by the time they found out the truth.

At first they were shocked; they didn't understand how that simple fact could have escaped them. Sister Helen took upon herself the task of 'adjusting' me: she tried to make me behave like a girl, teaching me all she could. Man, did I give her a hard time or what? Then some families tried to adopt me... but they wanted to adopt a girl in the true sense of the word, not a girl with psychological problems who thought she was a boy. The result? Every single family who tried to adopt me returned me after some time, mostly after I proved to them my 'masculinity'.

After much grieving, Father Maxwell decided to try a different approach. He sent me to school and let me continue behaving as a boy, even telling me to study hard to become a priest. Now that I look back, I can see he was trying the subtle approach. And he probably realized the reason behind my denial: whenever he could, he would tell me stories of brave women who said and did things no man ever had the courage to.

I think he made a huge progress. I stopped thinking like Wufei -- I used to call women weak, just like he does now -- and started thinking that women could be capable of doing the same things as men did, but men simply didn't let them. I stopped scorning women for being weak and started scorning men for not giving women the chance they deserved.

But most of his work on me was lost when I returned from that base and found the church in ruins. I kept telling myself it was my entire fault; somehow, the thought that I could have prevented the massacre if I had indeed been a man popped into my head. Ridiculous thought, now that my head is clear enough, but at the time it had seemed like a logical explanation. So I reverted to my old thinking patterns.

Women were weak.

For the first time in my life, I admitted I was a girl.

I was weak.

I had to become stronger.

I had to become a boy.

The next years came as a confusing experience. Before the church, we had all been children, but when I left the ruins and went back to the streets, I was becoming a pre-adolescent.

At first it was no big deal, at eight or nine you are exactly the same as other boys and girls. Every now and then I would bump into a group smaller than my first one; they didn't let me in, but didn't kick me out either. I was the youngest of them all, so could still pretend to be a boy... but watching them I realized that in a few more years I wouldn't be able to pretend anymore. I learned all the differences between boys and girls, and how their bodies worked.

Starving adolescents ranging from nine (me, according to Sisten Helen's estimate) and sixteen (the leader, a boy called Allan) wanted little more than food and some sort of gratification. Since the first was harder to get than the second... Let's just say I watched and learned a lot about it.

At eleven, I had my first crush. I was so intent on being a boy that it was no surprise I fell for a girl... After all, a boy doesn't like other boys that way, right? And Lily was the perfect picture of a girl: sweet, delicate and completely dependent on someone to protect her.

Girly.

Of course, she didn't know I was a girl too. She went with another boy... he was stronger, and I wasn't a very attractive boy, not with my bones showing underneath the skin and my long hair.

My hair... Funny enough, the only thing that reminded me that I was a girl (besides the obvious lack of some body parts) was my hair. Yet I didn't want to get rid of it. Perhaps because I liked the memories it held: Sister trying to cut it, braiding it, then trying to teach me how to take care of it when my gender was found out. I'm not sure... The only thing I know for sure is that the hair stays with me.

My meeting with Professor G changed my miserable life; he took me in and started my training. I also managed to deceive him for a long time, and when he finally found out, it was already too late.

But surprisingly enough, he didn't get mad at me; he just looked a bit shocked and commented that I was good at keeping up appearances. The technicians thought I was underdeveloped because of malnutrition, apparently, G had assumed the same thing.

I was so determined to keep up the 'boy act' that even before any first signs of body change I went to G and asked for help; he simply shrugged and gave me an injection. I later found out it was testosterone.

Just like women take those contraceptive injections, I took my testosterone. The injections changed my body slightly: I started growing more muscle, and my voice became deeper than it already was. If at first my voice had been almost too deep for a little girl, now it became as deep as a man's.

Some months after I began my training, I met an interesting person, Lara, one of the technicians. She made me toss all my theories on women's weakness out of the window.

She simply fascinated me. She was young and delicate-looking, yet one could easily see she was the one who wore the pants in her marriage. And she was strong-willed, too. While her husband worked on developing Deathscythe's software, she was the chief mechanic, responsible for all the men around her.

I became almost obsessed with her. Whenever I could, I would sneak around and watch her working, listening to what she said to others, and notice how she behaved. I saw her say and do things none of the men ever had the courage to.

Father Maxwell's stories came back to me. Retelling them in my mind, I started picturing Lara in the place of those women; I suddenly realized they could have been possible, and not just stories made up to change my mind.

Oh, who could have ever imagined that? G is a softie!!! When we found out Lara was pregnant, I was sure he would send her away and bring another to replace her. But he didn't. I eavesdropped while he talked to her in private and confessed she was the best mechanic of the team, and she could choose between going away to have the baby or stay until the end of the project. She stayed.

I watched in awe as she continued to work on the Gundam, even with that huge belly of hers. And when the baby came, she stayed away just a few weeks.

Curious, I went to see her. It was one of the most interesting conversations I had my entire life. I watched, fascinated, while she fed and changed the baby, cooing and making faces at him. We started talking, and the topic ranged from the baby to Deathscythe.

At some point, I said something to which Lara smiled and replied, "You wouldn't understand, Duo. You're still a boy."

Shaking my head, I grumbled, "I'm not a boy! I've already grown up!"

I can clearly remember her sad smile. "Duo, we can't change who we are. You're still too young to be a man. Look at me... what am I?"

"...A woman."

"Right. People think women are weak and can't do things like men do. Do you think I'm weak, Duo? Can't I do things?"

A pause, then I shook my head again. "No, I don't think you're weak, Lara. And you *can* do things... Professor G says you're the best mechanic in this place."

She smiled again. "See? I'm not a man, yet I'm neither weak nor incapable. I don't have to pretend I'm a man to do things, Duo. The same applies to you: there's no need to pretend being someone you're not only to show you're strong or capable."

Lara cradled the baby in her arms. "To be honest, I think being a woman is much more fascinating. Men tend to be quite ruthless; it's difficult to find tender and feeling men around... As a woman, I feel free to be as ruthless as men and as sweet as sugar whenever I please."

I snorted. "You're not half as sweet when you're out there in the
hangar."

At that, she smirked. "What can I say? When I'm 'out there in the hangar', there's almost no need for sweetness. I keep it for when it's really needed." A sigh. "I just give people the part of myself they need, Duo. Out there, I give my men my knowledge and strength; in here, I give my husband and son my love and gentleness. It's not that difficult."

I slowly nodded and headed toward the door. That talk had gone too far. But before I could leave, Lara's voice reached my ears one last time.

"You're still a child, Duo. Don't try to be a man yet, or someone you're not. It will only hurt you more."

After that day, I felt completely lost. Had I been deluding myself all that time? Was I trying to use my gender as an excuse for my failure?

Yes, I was. No matter how hard I tried, I knew I'd never be a man... And, deep down, I knew I would always blame my weak body for not accomplishing my goals.

In the almost three years of my training, I once more changed my way of thinking, and I finally admitted to myself I was female. Not with self-contempt; I was just stating an irreversible fact.

Once that fact was clearly established in my mind, things got a lot easier. I learned to compensate for my flaws: if I'd always be physically weaker than a man, I would become mentally superior; I'd be stealthier, faster and smarter than them.

I kept on with the hormones, but now for different reasons. They helped me build a stronger body and keep on the masquerade. Many still thought just like I did at the beginning; a girl piloting a Gundam would lower their faith in the success of the operation.

G shrugged again when I told him about my decision. He agreed to give me a small supply of hormones before I left to Earth, enough to last some months, then tossed a casual remark about how I was slowly destroying my own body and that I'd probably have reproductive problems in the future.

Since when was my health any of his concern? He was supposed to concentrate only on the operation, and not on my well-being. But, as I said, he's a softie. And I don't give a damn about reproductive problems, it's not like I'll find a nice guy and have babies. First because of what I do, second because I don't think I swing that way.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen! Duo Maxwell, the girl-who-wanted-to-be-a-boy-then-decided-to-remain-as-a-girl-but-still-pretending-to-be-a-boy is homosexual! Call the press!

How do I know that? First of all, I never thought about boys *that* way. Then I got a clue when I found out I had a crush on yet another girl. Lara. But, of course, Lara was even more off-limits than Lily. She was older than me, married, had a baby and was firmly convinced I was just a boy who wanted to grow up and turn into a man before the right time. I decided to try loving her as an idol: someone to look upon as a role model.

I'm still not sure whether I succeeded or not.

Eventually, the day I was supposed to 'steal' my Gundam arrived. The technicians all wished me luck, Lara gave me a brief hug, G gave me his last instructions and a box with several unlabeled vials and some syringes, and off I went to wreak havoc on Earth.

I met the Sweepers and accomplished some missions; all in all, everything was going just fine. Then I stumbled across a dangerous-looking boy ready to kill an innocent-looking girl.

The first thing I noticed was the girl. /'For a girl, she would make a very handsome boy...'/

I mentally slapped myself and went to rescue the damsel in distress. Who in turn scolded her savior and tried to help her attacker. Just great.

Things went 'slightly' (notice my sarcasm here?) out of plan from then on. I rescued the guy, and he robbed me; we messed up and fueled the war even more; we found more Gundams like ours, and eventually we started working together.

Which brought up another problem. It's easy to keep my secret when I just show up to do my job then go away, but when I start sharing safehouses with one or more pilots... and when we have to share bedrooms and bathrooms...

I don't know why, though it's probably because of the combination of childhood malnutrition, the hormones, and the stress of first training and then fighting in a war. I only know that I don't have a girl's body. I'm quite muscular, although not as much as a boy, I haven't menstruated since I came to Earth (and only twice during my training), and my breasts are so small no one notices them if I bind them up and wear a loose shirt.

All in all, a good thing. How would I be able to hide my gender if I had bras, panties and tampons in my suitcase? Since I don't use bras, always wear boxers (and even leave some scattered around for effect) and don't need tampons, the chances of being found out were scarce.

Until I left in a hurry and forgot to hide a syringe. And Mr. Psychotic found it. I only found out because I remembered the syringe shortly after leaving the house; when I came back looking for it, it wasn't in the exact place as before, although Heero did try to make it look that way. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I took out the box and opened it. I always took count of my vials, just to be sure. There was one missing.

And now he has it. Would he demand to know why I took hormone injections? Would he have already figured out?

And, just as I put the box away and ask myself that last question, Heero enters the bedroom.

***

PART TWO: The mission

 

He doesn't even acknowledge I'm in the room. He goes to the desk, boots his laptop and goes to work, leaving me to stare at his back, quite surprised. Not to be outdone, I simply ask, "Heero? Did you go through my stuff?"

He tenses, and I get my answer. "Where did you put it, Heero?"

A pause. Then, "I sent it to be tested."

Shaking my head, I sigh. "If you wanted to know, why didn't you just ask me?"

"Would you have answered?"

I shrug, even though I know he can't see. "Perhaps."

He turns around, facing me. "What is that?"

Not even blinking, I give him my best grin. "Cheer up, Heero! You don't need to worry, I'm not a drug addict! And Professor G knows about it, he was the one who gave me those vials before I came to Earth." I jokingly wave a finger at him. "But I must tell you it's rude messing with other people's stuff without asking for permission! And if there's anything left in that vial by the time you're done with it, give it back, okay? I'm already running out of that stuff." I bounce off the bed and make my way to the door.

I head out the house and lie down on the grass, just admiring the sunset. It's so relaxing... and unfortunately that's how I end up sleeping outside.

Coming inside the next morning I'm greeted by four pilots with various degrees of amusement on their faces.

I have the feeling I won't like whatever it is they will tell me.

Wufei is the first one to speak. "We have a mission."

Nothing big... yet. I listen while he explains the details and one thing catches my attention. "Infiltration? Then why do we have to enroll in this school?"

Quatre pipes up. "One goes to the school and keep an eye on any suspect move, while two others go to the base. The fourth one will stay as background and contact."

"And the fifth?"

Trowa's turn. "There will be no fifth. Heero's off to a solo."

I sigh. "Okay, who's doing what?"

I can see... a smirk?! on Quatre's face while he explains things. "I don't know why, but the mission profile states clearly that you are the one to be enrolled in the school. Trowa and Wufei are going to the base and I'll stay as your contact." A pause, in which Quatre seems to remember something. "Oh, and there's a private mail for you, I think it's your set of orders."

There's something off about the whole situation... but for the life of me, I can't tell what. I go to the bedroom, where I find my laptop (who said only Heero had one?) and, surely enough, there's a message from G there. I quickly scan the file and make sure it's from the right source, then proceed to read the info.

Hmmm, pretty much what Quatre had already told me, only a bit more detailed on *why* I have to stay in the school. Apparently there's a network connecting both the base and the school... I have to keep an eye open and make sure the slight 'alterations' Trowa and Wufei will do in the base don't leak before the right time, then make sure they *do* after both finish there. I guess, had Heero not had a solo to do, he would have been the one chosen to stay there.

After some consideration, I think I find out what's bothering me. Why does this mission requires *four* of us? And isn't it a bit too long? But then I simply shrug it off; the doctors have already ordered us to do many weird things before, why not work on this together?

This message is unusually long compared to G's previous ones... I keep on reading the orders.

/'This school is attended by high-class students, mostly politicians' and high-rank officer's children. The school board is very selective and rarely allows transfer students, unless they are from very rich and influential families, and always keeps detailed data on the students and their families by crossing given information with government databanks. Forging an identity to enroll will be impossible; your new identity and any extra necessary information are attached to this message.

Some of the students stay in the school while their parents constantly travel; this will be your excuse. The dorms have individual rooms, but do *not* bring any suspicious objects. The school staff inspects all rooms every day while the students are in class; both the presence of foreign objects and the absence of ordinary ones are reported to security.

You are to stay in the school and simply act as an ordinary student during the first half of the mission. After that, you are to make sure no one activates the files being uploaded from the base until they are complete, then finally activate them personally before leaving.'/

I scratch my head. It's not like G to go through all this work just because of a mission. Give me an identity himself? And how does he know all those details about that school?

As soon as I open the attachment, something catches my attention. I feel my eyes widening and blood leaving my face.

It can't be.

I read the file three more times, just to be sure. Unfortunately, it remains the same.

Hillary.

He wants me to go to that school posing as a girl.

I feel myself trembling. No, I don't want to do that. I *can't* do that. I don't know how to move as a girl, speak as a girl, dress as a girl. I don't know how to *be* a girl. And, if I do manage to do that, the others will find out. I don't want them to.

There's a hand shaking me, and as soon as I notice that, I flinch. Quatre's voice sounds worried. "Duo? Are you okay? You're terribly pale!"

I shake my head. "I can't do this, Quatre. I can't go there as a girl!"

Heero's voice reaches my ears. "You have to. You're already enrolled in the school as one and are expected there within the week."

I'm still trembling, but this time in rage. G, you did this on purpose, didn't you? "No! I *can't*!"

"It's a mission. You won't back off and fail the mission just because you're too squeamish to cross-dress for a few weeks."

Incredible how a few choice words can needle you, huh? Now I'm even angrier than before. "I'M NOT SQUEAMISH! Don't judge me without knowing my reasons!"

Heero remains impassive while Quatre looks at me, worried. Sometimes he's just too easy to read. "What's wrong, Duo?"

Before I can even think about how to answer that, Wufei enters the room. "What's going on here?!"

Saved by the bell -- err, yell. I turn around, shut down the laptop, and take in a deep breath. After making sure I'm calm enough, I head out of the room. "I'm going to take a walk, be back in a few."

I wander around for a long time, cursing G for doing this to me. Just because I admitted to myself I am a girl doesn't mean I want to act like one, or be found out. And both will likely come true if I go to that school.

/'All Hillary's background information is real, except for the last seven years and her not-reported date of death. From now on, Hillary Gordon will be your female identity, so pay attention to what you do under her name. Don't ruin her reputation.'/

Ha! Ruin her reputation?! I turn around and make my way back to the safehouse. Since I have to be her, let's see what kind of reputation this girl had!

Fuming, I head towards my bedroom, snatch my laptop from the table, and sit cross-legged on my bed, ignoring the look Heero's sending me. I'm just too busy to pay attention to him at the moment.

Although I'm not as good as Heero, I can do a miracle or two with a computer. Hacking for info is one of them. My preliminary search on 'Hillary Gordon' doesn't give me many answers, though.

/Date of birth: March 14th, AC 181.
Place of birth: Liège, Sank kingdom. [author's note: Liège isin Belgium... I have no idea where the Sank kingdom would be]
Father: unknown.
Mother: Vivian Gordon.
Only relative alive: grandfather, Vincent Gordon, businessman residing in L2 colony cluster.
No recorded information since AC 188, after mother's death; grandfather became legal guardian./

After several tries, I simply get no result. What is this? Why so little info on this girl? And why is her status 'still alive'? G made it quite clear she's already dead...

I start searching for more on her mother. Vivian Gordon was quite a social butterfly, and I find many pictures of her. She was pretty, with light blue eyes and dark golden hair. But what surprises me is what I find in her personal files: she was raised on Earth and studied in the very same school I'm going in. After the birth of her daughter she moved back to L2, to live with her father. And...

She died in AC 188, during one of the Federation's surprise attacks on the colony meant to quell the rebels.

An attack three weeks prior to the 'Maxwell Church Tragedy'.

I shake my head. *That's* why I'm doing this. I don't want any more parents losing children, nor children losing parents. I just want an end to it all.

Turning my search to Vincent Gordon, I'm not very surprised to discover as little on him as I found on Hillary. He's a rich man, considering L2 is the poorest one of all the colonies, and he's considered quite... eccentric. On-line tabloids spread fantastic stories about how no business partner ever laid eyes on the man after he lost his daughter, since he always had others representing him whenever necessary.

There's only one picture of the man, and it's of him when he was very young. I look at it, and warning lights start flashing in my head.

Oh, no. That... that *nose*...

G?!

G... Gordon... Is it really him?

So... he wants me to assume his granddaughter's identity?

Why?

I have to be sure. I hack into G's databanks -- well, not exactly hack, since I know some of the codes -- and look for any of his personal info. After exactly five minutes, my laptop bleeps and doesn't work anymore.

Got caught. But, I smile to myself, the old man needs to get better barriers. A good hacker can build and destroy worlds in five minutes.

Another bleep and the laptop is back to normal, only with a new message in my mailbox.

/'Don't dig too deep, *boy*. Now that you know who she is, I expect you to behave. But, if you must know, I'll indulge you. She died with her mother, but to the world she's still alive and well. Having been sheltered from the outside world during the last seven years, she is now being sent to the same school her mother attended, to learn how to be a lady.

Now go to work.'/

I sigh. Seems I don't have a choice on the matter... but then again, when did I ever have a choice on any matter? My bitter chuckles catch Heero's attention, but he doesn't say a thing. Good boy.

Wait a minute... What does he mean with /'to learn how to be a lady'/?!

G, you're doing this on purpose, aren't you?! What are you sending me into?

***

I still have a few more days before going to the school, but I'd better get ready...

Hmmm.... what exactly will I need?

I go to town and start examining the girls around me. I have to choose the right clothes, right? But the girls I see dress so casually... do rich girls dress like that, too? The only rich girl I've ever seen relatively close was Relena...

But I don't want to look like her. Uh-uh. No way.

What do I do now?

Well, guess I'll have to ask for help. Perhaps Quatre knows about it... after all, he's rich and has a lot of sisters.

I just hope he doesn't make fun of me.

***

After a whole day out, I'm finally back to the safehouse.

Shopping can be a very fun activity. If you want to, of course.

I could have been a very happy Duo, spending money here and there, if it weren't for the fact that all the things I bought were for the mission.

Feminine clothes.

Feminine shoes.

Make-up.

This last one was pretty fun, despite all. The saleswoman was quite surprised when I showed up and started asking prices, and when she finally got convinced I was a tomboy who had decided to learn how to properly behave... she simply spent three hours teaching me how to choose the best products and how to apply them all. And I really mean *all*! Layer after layer! How can they spend a whole day with all that stuff on their faces?

I should have started with the cosmetics shop... With the proper make-up, it became much easier to assume a female persona and buy the rest of my things.

But what is already done, is done. What really matters now is that I'm in the middle of the living room, surrounded by dozens of shopping bags and boxes.

I turn around at a slight sound, and am greeted by a gaping Wufei.

What's his problem? He looks like he just swallowed a frog...

Quatre pokes his head in the room, his eyes widen, and he cautiously approaches me. "Duo? Is it really you?"

I nod. When Quatre raises his hand and brushes my bangs aside I suddenly realize what the problem is, and mentally slap myself.

I haven't washed my face yet! I still have the make-up on!

"You look very convincing." I look above Quatre's shoulder and meet Trowa's blank look. Wufei is still quite surprised, so he doesn't say anything.

I give Trowa my most Duo-esque maniac grin, breaking the feminine effect of the make-up. "Now I know why you use a clown's mask instead of make-up! This thing itches!" That solves the problem, and Wufei snorts.

"It was too perfect to be true. Maxwell won't be able to keep up the act for long with this mouth of his."

Now what is this? Is he doubting me? Well, to hell with what the others think! I put to use what I learned in all the girl-watching I've ever done and *try* to look sweet. But by the way Wufei's looking at me while I advance on him, I still have to practice more...

I bat my eyelashes at him and whisper in my most sugary tone, "I don't think my mouth is my main problem, Wu-darling. But don't you worry, I'll find a good use for it."

"What is this mess?"

I turn around at the sound of Heero's voice and almost laugh at the look on his face. He looks at me and *blinks*. Twice. I give him a little sweet smile and a wink; *that* ruins the mood. While he glares at me, I try to pick up all the bags and boxes, and fortunately Quatre comes to my rescue.

We go to my room and dump it all on my bed, then Quatre turns to me. "Where are the suitcases?"

Oh-oh... I just *knew* I forgot something. Quatre leaves for a moment, then returns with a *big* one. "Here, take this one. See if all your things fit in here, if not, I'll look for another."

"Thanks, Quatre."

Quatre hesitates for a moment. "Duo... may I ask something?"

"Sure, what is it?"

"How?" At my confused look, Quatre elaborates, "I mean, why Hillary Gordon? And how did Professor G manage to 'borrow' her identity for you?"

I can't lie to Quatre. I *don't* lie. Well, not exactly. "I'm not sure *why*, Quatre. As for how... G knows this girl's grandfather. Perhaps he was willing to help."

Quatre nods. "I see. Well, Vincent Gordon is said to be a very eccentric person... I remember he contacted my father once, but never showed himself. And he has quite a big fortune... Do you think he could be financing part of the Operation?"

Hey, I haven't thought of *that*... "I don't think I can answer that, Quatre. But it's a possibility."

He nods again. For a moment, his mind seems to be somewhere else... but he soon recovers and turns to the door. "I'll let you finish packing these things... let me know if you need any help."

"All right. Thanks for the suitcase."

I start packing, but decide to leave out of the suitcase a pair of shoes and a skirt. I have to practice a bit more, otherwise I'll get tangled in my own skirt or stumble because of the shoes. Heero comes in the room and eyes my purchases; he raises an eyebrow at the panties and bras, but what really surprises him is a small blue box.

He reads the side of the box and stares at me. "What is this?"

I take the box from his hands and put it into the suitcase. "Tampons, what else? Hey, don't look at me like I'm some kind of pervert! G said they inspect the dorms everyday, do you think they wouldn't get suspicious of a girl who doesn't have these kind of things with her?"

"So you won't be taking anything suspicious with you. Nor those vials, either."

Damn! I forgot about those! But Heero has a point... "Guess not. I'll just take a shot before going to the school."

He eyes me for a second, then adds, "I got the results."

I had almost forgotten he tested one of them. "Oh."

"Why?"

Turning my back to him, I resume packing. "I don't want to talk about it. And I think I've already told you to not worry, G knows about it and it won't interfere with the mission."

After a moment of silence, I glance over my shoulder. I'm alone in the room.

***

PART THREE: The school

 

"Duo, are you ready yet? Trowa's already waiting!"

"I'm coming! Just a minute!"

After a brief argument, Trowa agreed to dressing up as a chauffeur. If I were to pretend being a rich girl, appearing alone at the school gates with my suitcase in hand would be a bit strange, wouldn't it? Quatre wouldn't look convincing as a chauffer, Heero was preparing to his solo mission and Wufei simply refused to dress up as anything.

Hn. Next time I'll tell the docs to choose him to dress-up as a girl.

I give myself a final look over, nod in satisfaction, and open the door. Hmmm, Trowa looks good in that chauffeur uniform... but why is he staring at me?

For that matter, why is *everyone* staring at me?

"What? Do I have something on my face?"

Wufei blinks. "Someone else's face, perhaps? You don't look like your usual self, Maxwell."

I roll my eyes. "Of course not! Do you think they would believe if I showed up dressed as my usual self and claimed to be the granddaughter of the richest man of L2? If I have to play the role I have to dress accordingly, right?" I spin around. "So, how do I look?"

I hope I look okay. I know the tailleur fits me just fine, showing curves not even myself knew existed... But since the braid didn't suit it well, I tried to do something different... *tried* being the operative word here. The chignon got a bit too big because of all my hair, but it's still better than having it loose. Or so I think.

Quatre looks me up and down, and even walks a small circle around me. "Amazing, Duo! It's perfect!"

Wufei snorts. "Or as close as you could get. But I must admit you indeed look like a girl, Maxwell."

O~kay, let's see if my practicing in front of the mirror improved things! G told me once I was a good actor... or should I say actress? I paste a sweet smile on my face, raise my voice a little and walk to him. "But good looks aren't all that matters, Wu-darling... and you know that. Good behavior is very important, too." I take his arm and lean on him, trying my best to look both flirtatious and politely restrained at the same time.

By the way he's eyeing me, I'd say today's performance was better than the first one.

Trowa interrupts whatever Wufei's answer might be. "We'd better get going, *Miss Gordon*."

I raise an eyebrow at that, but quickly catch the mood. "Yes, I think you're right, *Alfred*. Let's go, shall we?" I turn back and see Quatre trying to hold a chuckle. "Goodbye, boys. Behave." I smile at them and wink at Heero, who had stayed silent during the entire escapade.

***

Whoa, this school is bigger than I thought!

I watch in silence as Trowa hands my baggage to one of the school's employees, nods politely to both myself and the attendant who greeted me in the main building, and leaves in the shiny black car he 'acquired' some hours before.

The attendant quietly leads me through empty corridors until we reach a big wooden door. Inside, I meet a well-dressed woman with her hair in a bun and glasses... if it weren't for her slightly gray hair and over-weighted silhouette, I'd say it was Une. Brrr.

"Ah, Miss Gordon. Please take a seat."

I nod and sit in front of her desk. She eyes me for long seconds and I shift uncomfortably, feeling like a bug under a microscope. Remember what Sister Helen tried to teach you, Duo! Sit still and upright!

The woman simply smiles at me. "Please, let me introduce myself. My name is Monica Adams, and I'm the principal of this school. I believe you are aware this is a very selective school, and accepting transfer students is quite rare." I nod, and she continues, "However, you are a special case. That's also why I asked your grandfather to send you in during the weekend."

She seems to be thinking about something, but quickly snaps back to reality. "Has your grandfather ever mentioned my name to you, Miss Gordon?"

What is she getting at? I shake my head in negative, and she sighs. "Just as I expected... Your mother was one of my students, Miss Gordon. At the time I was just beginning my career in this school, but I remember her well. She was very sweet and delicate, liked by all, and after some time, she became one of my personal friends."

Oh-oh, that's not good. If she was a close friend of my supposed 'mother', things can get complicated. What if she asks me something about her?

"I also remember visiting her after you were born, Miss Gordon. When I first saw you, you were about two months of age."

Shit! She saw Hillary before?!

"I must admit to being very surprised when your grandfather enrolled you in this school, even after finding out I was the principal... when he came to fetch your mother, we met... but we didn't part on very good terms." She seems saddened for a moment, but soon resumes her business-like posture. "But that's part of the past. I'm very pleased to see you've grown to such a lovely lady, and I'd like to talk more about you, but I believe it'd be better if I first explained to you about our school."

I nod, relieved. The danger is gone, at least for now. She continues, "Our school is a well-known and very well established institution; so many illustrious families send us their children. I believe you'll meet many interesting people here." I nod again.

"We have very few rules in this school, but they are to be followed strictly. While inside the campus, all students must wear standard uniforms, even when classes are already finished for the day; that includes our boarding students, and applies to you as well. The only time when casual clothes are allowed is when the boarding students are leaving the campus. By their parents' or guardian's recommendations, some of our students are not allowed to leave campus under any pretext, while others may only leave if accompanied by one of our school staff--"

I mentally cringe. G, if you make me stay inside this school during the whole mission... I'll make sure you'll regret it for a very, *very* long time!

"--of course there are some allowed to come and go at free will, and this is your case, Miss Gordon," I mentally sigh in relief, "but even then you are to follow some procedures. Whenever you feel the need to leave campus, alone or with another allowed student, you are to address one of the inspectors at the main gate, stating where your destination is and how long you are expecting to be out, and when you come back let the inspector know it."

I nod one more time. Damn, this sounds more like prison than school to me! And I'm tired of nodding at this woman!!!

"We have few boarding students, distributed into two separate buildings according to gender; boys aren't allowed into the girls' dorm building, and vice-versa. There is no scheduled time for lights-out, but the students are asked to do it at a reasonable time. Only the cafeteria and classes require punctuality in attendance, but we ask the student body to be reasonable regarding their extracurricular disciplines as well."

Pausing only long enough to flip some pages in the folder on her desk, she continues, much to my chagrin, "And that brings me to your schedule. According to your grandfather, you've been studying with private tutors for the last six years, and will be easily able to follow the classes... but he also claimed to have missed something very important in your education, and asked my help in correcting his mistake."

I feel my insides tighten. What in the seven hells did G plan for me?

"So instead of offering you three extracurricular disciplines, as the rest of the student body, we're offering only two, which your grandfather already chose: riding and Arts. The time available for the third discipline will be used by Miss Claire to help you gain some knowledge about some simple facts of social life."

Floored. That's the only word that can describe me at the moment... completely, utterly *floored*. I can barely make out some words about trying on the uniforms and her dismissal, and by the time I regain my senses I'm already in my room.

Ignoring my surroundings, I sit on the large bed for a moment. And wonder why G would do this to me.

Arts? I've done some doodles on notebooks, but other than that, I know nothing about painting!

Riding? I've never *touched* a horse in all my life!

But what bothers me the most is that mysterious class I'll have to attend alone... what did that woman mean with...

Oh, no... Surely she didn't mean...

/'...to learn how to be a lady...'/

/'...he also claimed to have missed something very important in your education...'/

/'...to help you gain some knowledge about some simple facts of social life...'/

Falling back on the bed, I fight the sudden urge to shriek, and curse G to the deepest pit of Hell for all eternity.

ETIQUETTE LESSONS?????!!!!!

***

Some indefinite amount of time later, a knock on my door makes me stop muttering obscenities about G's bloodline, his twisted sense of humor, and my predicament in general. I quickly straighten my clothes and open the door, to be greeted by an elderly lady.

She explains she's come to adjust my school uniforms, and before I can even blink I find myself stripped to my underwear, blushing furiously. The old lady, Mrs. Harris, just chuckles and hands me some clothes, which I hastily put on.

Well, it seems not so many adjustments are needed, after all. The standard uniform is quite simple: a white long-sleeved shirt, a knee-length (and dark brown) pleated skirt and a lighter brown matching vest [author's notes: anyone ever seen Himiko Den's opening? Change the length of the girl's skirt and voilà!]. But apparently not everyone agrees with me... I almost gasp aloud when Mrs. Harris starts adjusting the clothes... Gods, I won't be able to breath in these! My protests are waved away and once more I find myself down to my underwear.

Ah, the riding clothes... At least once in a while I'll be able to wear pants! And, thanks to all heavens, they aren't so tight as the others!

After what seems to me like an eternity, the unbearably cheerful (I know I'm bad, but *that* is simply too much!) Mrs. Harris declares she's finished with me and leaves the room. Relieved, I turn around and for the first time take a good look at my room. A large closet, huge bed, desk... everything I had expected, just simpler than I had thought a rich-kid school would offer. Shrugging, I take some things out of my suitcase and head toward the bathroom. Right now, a hot shower sounds *very* appealing to me.

***

After a wonderful shower and a change of clothes I leave my room to 'explore' campus. I quickly locate various buildings, such as the cafeteria, the library, and my main goal: the computer building, right next to the administrative center.

Some students scattered around keep staring at me, and I wonder... what are they seeing? Can they realize I'm a girl, or do they see a boy in drag? I look at my clothes, a gray shirt and black pants (I can't be blamed for not wearing the school uniform if I don't have it!), and realize myself I look quite androgynous.

Suddenly, someone bumps into me from behind; I quickly turn around and find myself face-to-face with a boy about my age. He turns an interesting shade of red and immediately starts babbling apologies. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--! Are you all right--? I--"

I examine him for a moment, and can't help but think that he somewhat reminds me of Heero... or at least what Heero would look like, were he a normal schoolboy. His hair is the same color as Heero's, but neatly brushed and kept under control... his and Heero's faces have the same sharp angles, and the same upturned nose... but that's where the similarities stop. This boy has soft brown eyes and a deep, but smooth voice. Nothing like Heero's glaring blue eyes and nasal voice.

Speaking of voices... His voice calls me back to reality, and makes me realize I'm openly staring at him. I notice he's blushing under my stare, and chuckle softly to myself. Yep, no Heero personality in there! He's shy! I give him a smile. "Don't worry about that, I'm fine."

He smiles back, and I wonder if Heero's smile would be like that... but then I shrug that thought away, Heero never smiles! Just smirks, laughs maniacally when he's in battle, and grunts or snorts every now and then...

"Glad to hear that. Oh, where are my manners," he inclines his head, "I'm Hikaru Tsukino."

I extend my hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, my name is Hillary Gordon." His eyes widen a bit at my 'name', and I can tell he was unsure about my gender. Now that he's sure, he takes my hand... and kisses it! I would sweatdrop if I could!

Is this school *that*... formal? (or should I simply say weird?) Before I can even blink, the boy excuses himself and disappears around the corner. I scratch my head, confused, then simply shrug it off and resume my examining of the place.

But by the time I'm making my way back to the dorms, I notice, surprised, the same boy leaving the computer building. What is he doing there? That building is completely off-limits to any student, and even some of the school staff... Hmm, perhaps my little friend there is more than what meets the eye. Better keep an eye on him.

Satisfied, I nod to myself and turn toward the dorm building. I have to finish unpacking, and soon the cafeteria will be open for dinner. I just hope the food here is better than last school's!

***

Damn! This school is driving me crazy!

I've already spent a month in here, yet nothing has happened... at least nothing concerning our mission. I guess I should follow my own advice and enjoy a 'normal' life while I have the chance... but doing it dressed as a girl wasn't exactly in my mind.

And my classmates... what a pain! At first some were quite nice to me, then that principal woman came and messed everything up. Her past friendship with Hillary's mother makes her act a bit *too* protective over me, and I guess the other students are a bit jealous... especially that Annette chick. Now they don't even acknowledge me when I'm around, or when they do it's to make fun of me! I admit I'm a weird girl, but they don't have to rub it on my face! The only one who treats me well is Hikaru, who is in my class, and we've become quite good friends... and lucky me, along with his friendship I got free access to the computer building! He introduced me to his father, who works there, and every now and then I go there to talk to him... and take the opportunity to keep an eye on the computers without having to break in during the night.

The classes aren't so bad... I found out I can draw quite well, and so Art is now my favorite class. Riding isn't so bad either, although the first times were quite traumatic... falling off a horse and having everyone laugh at you isn't very pleasant, I can guarantee that.

But... those etiquette classes... grr, I don't want to even think about them! Sometimes it requires all my willpower to not kill the damned teacher!

***

PART FOUR: The new student

 

Somehow I end up waking far too early for my tastes today... that gives me plenty of time to see my mail; every week Quatre sends me a letter or an e-mail, pretending he's my grandfather, and I have to answer them. After finishing another letter with no real significance, I get ready and leave.

Because it's quite early, I have breakfast alone. And since I have nothing better to do, I simply go to my classroom... perhaps I can doze off a little before class starts.

I'm quite surprised when I get into the classroom and notice there's someone already in... Hikaru. I greet him, but he doesn't even notice me. He looks sad... I notice he's eyeing an old photograph, and my curiosity gets the better of me. I dare a peek, and see a pretty young woman, holding a baby and smiling toward the camera.

Hikaru suddenly turns around, almost glaring at me. I quickly step back, and when he notices it's me he relaxes a bit. "Hey. What are you doing in class so early?"

"Hello. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you... but you didn't answer me, and you looked far away."

He smiles sadly. "Yes, I was thinking about the past. See this woman?" He shows me the photo, "She was my mother. She died when I was four."

I nod at him. "She was very pretty... you father was a lucky man."

Silence. Then, "...He isn't my father, Hillary."

Shocked, I turn to him, wide-eyed. He notices my shock and embarrassment, and tries to soothe it. "Don't worry, Hillary. Almost no one knows that, and we prefer to keep it that way... but I trust you. Perhaps it'd do me some good to tell someone..."

And he does just that, telling me everything he went through after his mother died. He doesn't show any discomfort while telling me about it, and I in turn remind him that I don't have a mother either (after all, both myself and Hillary lost our mothers). The next half-hour passes very quickly, and I'm still so distracted because of Hikaru's words that I simply don't notice the other students arriving in the classroom, nor the whispering that starts with the teacher's arrival.

The teacher hushes the class. "We have a new student joining us; please welcome him. Mr. Winner, would you please introduce yourself?"

Winner? What is Quatre doing in here? I look up, and freeze.

Shit. It's not Quatre.

Without even glancing at me, Heero simply states in his monotone voice, "Quatre Raberba Winner. Pleased to meet you."

The teacher nods. "And we are pleased to meet you as well, Mr. Winner. Please take a seat beside Mr. Tsukino. If you have any questions, I'm sure he'll be glad to help you." Hikaru stands up at the mention of his name, and Heero sits on the desk at his right.

Great. Now I have two obsessive and psychotic Japanese boys behind me.

***

Lunchtime. The entire class followed Heero outside and is trying to crowd around him! I guess almost everyone knows about the Winner family, one of the richest ones of the colonies, and is trying to 'make friends' with a potential future ally, but Heero is refusing all invitations to lunch and cutting off any kind of conversation.

Guess I'm going to have a small talk with Heero, and soon. If he's going to pretend he's Quatre, he'll have to act a bit more civil... I can't let him ruin Quatre's reputation among these snobs; what if he needs one of them in the future?

As I walk towards Heero, I see Hikaru doing the same. He smiles at me, and winks. "I'm about to invite Winner to lunch. Want to join me, Hillary?"

Giving a sideways glance, I notice Heero's look... he's not happy. He looks even more unpleased when Hikaru offers me an arm and I take it, and by the time we reach him and shoo away the other students Heero is almost glaring at me.

Hikaru extends his hand. "Hello. I'm Hikaru Tsukino." Heero eyes his hand for a moment. I glare at him for all I'm worth, and he takes the hint. After shaking hands, Hikaru 'introduces' us. "And this lovely lady is Hillary Gordon. We were wondering if you'd like to join us for lunch."

Heero looks at me for a second, then nods. The other students whisper among themselves while the three of us leave for the school cafeteria.

Hikaru's gentlemanly manners towards me has led to the assumption that we're together; I didn't mind at the time, since it made the others leave me alone and stop spreading rumors about me. But now that Heero is here, it's making me uncomfortable... what should I do?

We take our trays and sit at an outdoor table. Hikaru's trying his best to charm our new classmate, talking about the school, the teachers and the other students. I eat in silence, while Heero only nods at Hikaru's words.

How will I talk to Heero with Hikaru near us? I have an idea, and stand up. "I'm going to get some water."

Hikaru stands immediately. "Don't worry, I'll get it for you. Excuse me." With that, he leaves, and I smile to myself.

Bingo.

I sit down again. Turning to Heero, I raise an eyebrow. "Why are you here? Did something happen?"

He looks around, no one within hearing range. "I finished my mission and was told to come here. Everything else is going as planned."

"Why Winner?"

"By the same reason you're Hillary. It was the only real name that could be used and accepted in here."

I nod in understanding. "I see. But if you're going to pretend you're Quatre, you'd better watch what you're doing, Heero. Many of these students' families know his; if you keep on behaving like your normal self, it'll raise suspicion -- Quatre's a lot more civil than you."

Heero snorts. "Is that why you're staying so quiet? That's not like you."

Ouch, he's needling me. I shrug and give him a girly smile. "I have to keep up the act. A well-bred lady doesn't talk her head off, nor intrude upon other people's conversations. But I have an advantage over you, Heero: if I do something wrong, the real Hillary won't complain, since she's already dead. Quatre, on the other hand..."

He scowls, and little me rejoices. I have a point, after all. "Who's Hillary, anyway? I know you hacked info on her, but I didn't manage to get anything."

I pause, uncertain. Should I tell him?

But then my choice in the matter is lost when Hikaru comes back with a bottle of water. I give him my most charming 'thank you' smile and listen while he tries to talk with Heero some more.

Glancing at my watch, I stand up, making both boys look at me. "If you'll excuse me, I have to leave. Miss Claire is waiting for me." Hikaru opens his mouth, and I lightly touch his shoulder. "There's no need to walk me there, Hikaru. Why don't you stay with Mr. Winner and tell him more about the school?"

Hikaru nods. "As you wish, Hillary. Will I see you later today?"

I hesitate a bit when I notice Heero's narrowed eyes. "Of course. I'll meet you at the gym." Turning to Heero, I give him my most polite smile. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Winner. I hope we can talk again."

I turn around and head toward my twice-a-week 'torture session' with Miss Claire. The last thing I hear is Hikaru's, "Isn't she wonderful?" addressed to Heero.

Gods, Hikaru! Don't say anything that'll get you killed!

***

Gaaaaah!

It's so frustrating! I want out! I want to go back to being a normal person! I want to slouch in a chair, munch on my food, curse aloud, *be allowed to put my hands in my pockets*!

I *don't* want to sit straight in a chair with a polite smile on my face and clasped hands on my lap! Nor sip delicately at a cup of tea! I hate tea!

Damn! I admit G's excuse for my lack of manners was clever, but this is just too much! I don't want any more etiquette lessons! It's *torture*!!!

I admit I'm learning a few things here and there, but what for? As soon as I leave this school and go back to my Gundam there will be no need for them!

Miss Claire politely dismisses me, and I'm out of her office in a split-second.

At least this week's done.

I go to the gym and look around. Seems that Hikaru's fencing lessons aren't finished yet; there are two boys dueling. I watch, fascinated, while the duelists dance around each other. I always thought fencing was too snobbish for my tastes, but now I admit it's quite beautiful. Too bad I can't even *hold* a foil correctly, much less use it.

When the boys remove their masks, I'm quite surprised to see both Hikaru *and* Heero. I already knew Hikaru was good at fencing, but Heero? Guess he's even more 'perfect' than I had originally thought...

Hikaru smiles at me. "Hillary! You're earlier than usual!"

I nod. "Yes, Miss Claire dismissed me earlier today. A good thing, since it let me watch you fencing."

Hikaru sighs, mock-wounded. "But of all days to watch me, you had to choose the one I lost? Winner here is much better than me!"

I turn to Heero, who seems less than pleased. "I must admit I'm surprised, Mr. Winner. It's the first time I've seen Hikaru lose to someone in sword-play."

He doesn't answer me, just walks away, and Hikaru comes to stand beside me. "Despite that attitude of his, I like him. I think he'll be staying in the dorms, Hillary; why don't you show him the rest of the school? I have to leave now -- Father asked me to fetch something for him."

Nodding, I turn to go. "Sounds like a good idea. I'll be in the library, why don't you ask him to meet me there? I would be glad to help."

Before I can walk away, he takes my arm. "Can I come to see you on Sunday afternoon? We still have that History project to finish."

"Of course."

***

Fortunately for us, the library has many study rooms, designed for small groups of students. I hear Heero coming in, closing the door, then sitting across the table.

"What do you think you're doing?"

I raise my eyes from the book in my hands and look at him. "What are you talking about?"

"You and that other boy."

What does he mean? "Hikaru? What about him?"

"That's what I mean. Since when do you use first names? Are you that intimate?"

I shrug. "He's a good friend. We've been together ever since I came here."

Heero narrows his eyes. "You're not following the mission. You're supposed to mix with the students, not roll around with them."

*Now* I get what he's implying, and I sure as hell don't like it. "Now you hear me here, *Mr. Winner*. I don't give a damn what you or the other students think about Hikaru and me, but we are *not* together like that. We're just friends! As for not following the mission, you have no right to talk to me like that. You weren't here when things started and you don't know what happened since I got here."

Silence. Perhaps I was a bit too harsh on him... but then again, he was the one who had made assumptions and demanded explanations, wasn't he?

"What happened?"

Ah, much better. Hmmm, should I tell him about the principal? Nah, I don't think he needs to know that... "Things. Mixing up with the students was harder than I'd expected. Most of the boys pretty much ignore me because I'm a girl, and the girls keep their distance because they think I'm too rude. Not to mention they think I'm a dyke. Hn, if only they knew..." I give Heero a smirk, and he answers with a somewhat amused twinkle in his eyes.

I close the book and sigh. "Anyway, Hikaru was the only one who wasn't bothered by me. He said I wasn't as frivolous as the other girls, or as megalomaniacal as the boys. The other students don't like him very much, mostly because his family is not rich; his father works here, so he doesn't have to pay for Hikaru's studies. And since we're both the scum of this school, we hit it off pretty well..."

"Is that why the others started gossiping when I accepted your invitation for lunch?"

I chuckle a bit. "So you noticed, huh? Yep, that's right. They must be squirming around, trying to figure out what 'the dyke and the beggar' have that managed to charm the richest kid on L4, while they only got glares and silence."

"And what does his father do?"

"Ah, I thought you'd never ask. Come with me." I get up to leave the study room, Heero trailing behind me. But as soon as I open the door someone steps in front of us, and I try to stifle a groan. It's Annette, the local viper.

"Good afternoon, Miss Gordon. Studying hard?"

I see the way she spits the word 'miss'. Hell, I don't need this kind of thing now. "Not exactly, Miss Miller. Just talking a bit. Oh, please let me introduce you. Miss Annette Miller, Mr. Quatre Raberba Winner."

Her eyes go wide, and I think they will be falling out of their sockets any second now. "Mr. Winner? From L4?"

Heero nods, but doesn't say a word. Annette is almost beaming now. "Oh, I've heard many things regarding your family, Mr. Winner! My father has even met yours personally." She frowns for a second, and alarms go off in my head. Here comes trouble. "I've been told about you before, Mr. Winner. But I thought you had blue eyes and *blonde* hair."

Shit! What now?!

But Heero doesn't even hesitate. "I dyed my hair."

Two sets of eyes widen at this answer... Annette's and mine, to be more precise. After a moment, Annette regains her composure. "Oh... Well, Mr. Winner, welcome to this school! Is there anything you'd like to know? I'll be delighted to show you around!"

Heero shakes his head. "No, thank you. I've already taken Miss Gordon up on her offer." And Heero shocks ten years off my life by offering his arm to me, the same way Hikaru did at lunchtime. "Shall we go, Miss Gordon?"

I know I must look like a landed fish, eyes bugged out and mouth gaping open. I take Heero's arm and we leave the library, Annette's eyes burning holes on the back of my head. As soon as we get out of the building, I turn to Heero. "What was all that about?"

He gives me a sideway glance. "You said it yourself: 'if you're going to pretend you're Quatre, you'd better watch what you're doing'; 'if you keep on behaving like your normal self, it'll raise suspicion' and 'Quatre's a lot more civil than you.' I'm just keeping up appearances."

Heero disengages himself from me, but I latch onto his arm again. "Well, if that's the case, Mr. Winner, you can't retrieve your arm before we get to our destination. Especially since Annette is right behind us, trying to puzzle out why you turned her down because of me." Heero glances behind him, and by the way he stiffens, my guess is right. "Be careful when you're around her. She's more annoying than Relena, and much more dangerous."

He remains silent. We stroll around, pretending I'm showing him the school -- unnecessary, since I'm sure he memorized the school's layout before coming -- until we reach a locked door that reads 'Authorized personnel only'. By Heero's look, he knows what is behind that door.

I knock. Two loud, one soft, three loud. Before Heero can ask me the meaning of that, the door opens and a familiar face greets us. "Hello, Hillary! What brings you here?"

I smile at Hikaru's father. "Good afternoon, Mr. Tsukino. Is Hikaru here?"

He shakes his head. "Not yet. Why don't you come in?" I look significantly at Heero, and the older man just shrugs. "Don't worry, Hillary! Just come in."

And so we do. After closing and locking the door, the man turns to us. "So, who is your new friend?"

"This is Quatre Raberba Winner, he just came to this school today. Mr. Winner, this is Mr. Takeo Tsukino, Hikaru's father. Mr. Tsukino is responsible for the school's computer system."

Heero raises an eyebrow at me. Mr. Tsukino speaks up, "Nice to meet you, Mr. Winner. But I'm not exactly responsible, contrary to what Hillary says. I'm just one of the programmers."

"The *only* programmer."

He sighs. "Yes, but only for now. There will be a new one to help me in a month or two."

Heero looks around the computer room; memorizing all details and possible weaknesses, I guess. That was what *I* did when I first got into this room.

I chat with Mr. Tsukino for a few minutes, until someone knocks on the door, the same way I did before. When I open the door, Hikaru seems surprised to see me there. "Hillary! I thought you were with Winner!"

"I am."

Hikaru comes in and see Heero paying close attention to Mr. Tsukino's explanations. "Oh. Why did you bring him here?"

"I told him your father worked in the school, and he asked where. So I brought him to see it himself."

"And he didn't say anything?"

"Not what the others used to say."

Hikaru locks the door, then turn and smiles at me. "Guess we were right about him, huh?"

I laugh. "And you lost the chance to see him turning down Annette Miller just to come here with me! You should have seen her face, it was hilarious!"

He looks baffled. "Are you serious?"

"Yes! Either he doesn't know who she is, or he simply doesn't care!"

"It's both." We turn around at the sound of Heero's voice, and Hikaru blushes. How long had he been listening?

Hikaru manages to control his blush, and apologizes. "I'm sorry, we didn't mean to talk about you behind your back. It's just that... well, it's not everyday someone ignores Annette. She's the vice-principal's daughter... and because of that she tends to be a bit too arrogant."

I snort. "A *bit*? Hikaru, if she says something and someone else disagrees, she sends all her fan-club to ridicule the person!"

Hikaru's father tries to calm us down. "Kids, don't talk like that! What will Mr. Winner think about it?"

I blink innocently at him. "That it's the truth?" He laughs, and I smile. "You're right, Mr. Tsukino." Turning to Hikaru, I wink at him and add, "Actually, I came here to ask you to bring my sketchbook on Sunday. I'll use one of those drawings in my Arts project."

Looking surprised, Hikaru blinks. "Really? Which one?"

Glancing at Heero, I shift uncomfortably. "I'm not sure yet. I was thinking about the dragon."

"Shenlong? It would look nice... But don't you think Shenlong needs too many colors? Why don't you try Wing instead?"

Damn, now Heero's glaring at me! Hey, it's not what you think! "Perhaps I will, Hikaru. I'll decide it on Sunday. Well, I think I should be going. Will you accompany me, Mr. Winner?"

Heero nods, we say goodbye, and leave. As soon as we reach safe distance, he turns to me and glares again. "What were you talking about?"

I try to look nonchalant. "It's nothing, really. Just some drawings I've made."

"And why did you name them after the Gundams?"

"I didn't do it on purpose. It was only a coincidence. Shenlong is a dragon, after all."

"And Wing?"

I hesitate. "Well... If you see the drawing you'll understand."

We reach the girl's dorm building. "I think I'll stay here, Heero. I want to take a shower before dinner." With that, I enter the building and go to my room.

***

Ah, the wonders of hot water... I must admit one of the best things in this mission is that I can take as many showers as I want. Guess growing up in a water-rationed colony turned me into a shower freak when water became available... but I do my best to not waste any more water than necessary! The only thing better than a hot shower... is a hot meal!

Drying myself off, I stand in front of the full-length mirror. I don't know exactly why, but I feel somewhat... different. Throwing the towel aside, for the first time in my life I take a long and deliberate look at my naked reflection on the mirror. I take the opportunity to examine my own body without guilt and without the risk of someone opening the door while I'm at it.

I know I'm not pretty. Still, I have some good assets.

My hair. Sure, the others might consider it a liability, but now that I can afford to take some care of it...

My eyes... Someone once told me I had beautiful eyes; hn, they probably wanted a quick lay in one of the nearby dark alleys. Yet I must admit that out of us five, I'm the one who looks most like a normal teenager. Heero is too much like a robot; Trowa's eyes look dead; Wufei is way paranoid and Quatre looks too innocent... although I have a gut feeling his looks are a little deceiving, just like mine.

As for my body... I raise a hand and trace the curves of my breasts, too small for a normal girl of my age. When I put on that tailleur for the first time my body surprised even myself, because, although flat-chested, I found out I'm rather curvy at the waist and hips. Guess the riding pants made a good job of concealing the fact my hips are a bit too large for a boy's body.

What would the others say if they found out my secret? Quatre would be disappointed; he once said he wished he'd had a brother like me. Wufei'd probably have a screaming fit... Trowa and Heero don't give a shit about me, maybe they wouldn't care less. Well, that's the way life is: some care, most don't.

I quickly get dressed then go to the cafeteria. As usual, I get early, so I choose a table on the far corner, and a few minutes later I see Annette sitting on a nearby table. What is she doing here? She's never eaten dinner in the school cafeteria before!

Realization dawns on me when I see her watching as Heero enters the cafeteria.

It seems that Heero has collected another stalker besides Relena... Sometimes I pity the guy.

With a quick glance around the room, Heero locates both Annette and me. Pretending not to see her, he sits at my table, back turned to her.

I raise an eyebrow at him. "Good evening, Mr. Winner."

Heero just nods at me and starts eating. I look around and realize the few students in the cafeteria are glancing furtively at us. They are probably wondering, with all the empty tables available, why Heero chose to sit with me.

Annette keeps glaring daggers at me throughout dinner. I deliberately start eating slower and indicate for Heero to do the same. He gets the hint, and when Annette is finally away we can talk without the risk of being overheard.

"Don't you think it's a bit suspicious sitting with me? I mean, there are plenty other empty tables in here, and we've supposedly just met."

"Quatre'd sit near someone he befriended during the day."

"Oh." A pause. "Well, Mr. Winner, what is your schedule like?"

"I have the same morning classes as you do, in the afternoons I have fencing, riding and swimming."

"Always the sportsman, aren't you? Too bad we don't have any ball games in this school. I kinda miss a good basketball game."

"Why do you have two periods marked 'special' in your schedule? You weren't supposed to."

I sigh, he just had to ask it! "Tell me about it... it's all G's fault. He sent a message telling the principal I needed 'special orientation' in some areas." At Heero's look, I give up. "He told them I wasn't raised properly and needed etiquette lessons."

Why is it I've never seen him display such amusement before this mission? Probably because my predicament is what amuses him. Right now he's almost smiling! "Don't you dare laugh at me! It's not funny!"

"It is."

My lips form a pout. "Perhaps for you, sure as hell not for me." After a pause, I add, "And why exactly are you here?"

He gets serious again. "Instead of having two pilots in the background, it was decided one would come here and help you out."

I sigh. "Sorry to burst your bubble, but there's nothing to help me with in here... there's been nothing for me to do so far!" I pause for a moment, then make a face. "I know I once said we should enjoy these schools whenever we got the chance, and be like normal kids for a while... it's all I've been doing in here. I just never thought I'd have to do it dressed as a girl!"

Heero says nothing for a while, and I'm glad he didn't make any smart-ass remark about my predicament. Then he asks, "And what about that boy?"

"Hikaru *is* a good friend. I just got lucky his father works in the computer building, that way I don't need to make up any excuses to go there... and while we talk, I can monitor what he's doing and make sure he doesn't find out about Wufei's bugs before the right time."

"Veiled surveillance."

I shrug. "Call it what you like. I'm just making certain it will work both ways; they won't get in our way, and I won't let them get caught up when the shit hits the fan."

He says nothing more, and I finish my dinner. "I'd better go now. No matter how easily Quatre would befriend me, we shouldn't spend too much time like this; after all, we've supposedly just met today." But before I get up, I ask him one last question. "Will we need to meet later? If so, we have to use the windows; there are surveillance cameras in the dorm hallways."

"No. We won't meet in the dorms, unless it's something urgent."

I nod and stand up. "Okay. Good night then, Mr. Winner." With that, I leave the cafeteria.

***

PART FIVE -- The secret revealed; the friend in hurt

 

The days pass, and not a word from the others. Quatre keeps sending me mail, pretending he's my 'grandfather', but still none of his messages say anything relevant to our mission. As I told Heero, I enjoy the opportunity to pose as a quite normal student but, at the same time, this lack of activity is starting to get on my nerves.

Since we have all morning classes together, and in the afternoon Heero is either with Hikaru (fencing or swimming), or with me (I never thought Heero would look so different in riding clothes... and damn, he's perfect at riding, too!), his presence changed a few things around us... he's started 'hanging out' with Hikaru and myself (if you could ever say the mighty Heero Yuy is hanging out with someone), and that somewhat diminished the other's animosity toward us; after all, if the well-known Quatre Winner likes the school's scum... they can't be that bad, can they? That, or they think he took pity on us... Even Annette-viper got off my back, lucky me...!

Either way, what really matters is that every now and then Heero joins me in my almost daily visit to the computer building, and once or twice he agreed to studying with Hikaru in the library. And whenever I find myself alone with Hikaru... I'll soon *not* be alone with him. I don't know if Heero doesn't trust me, or he just wants to rise my fur... the only thing I know is that, ever since he came to this school, I haven't talked in private with Hikaru. There's always someone else with us: our classmates, Heero. Even when I go to the computer building and Heero's not with me, there's Hikaru's father around.

It's not like I have to hide from Heero... it's just that I like talking to Hikaru. We had a somewhat similar past, so I like talking to him, and imagine if I would have become like him, had I had his luck.

Sighing, I drop my things in my bedroom, then leave the dorm building. Hikaru asked me to help him with his Arts project, so I agreed to meeting him after his swimming class. I arrive earlier than expected, and watch the boys swim for a while.

When they start pulling themselves out of the water, I approach the swimming pool. Suddenly, something hits me on the back and I am knocked forward, my head hitting something hard. Gasping, I hit the water and try in vain to breathe... Bad idea, I just end up swallowing the chlorinated water of the pool. My vision blurs for a moment, then everything goes black.

...

There's... someone pulling me by the waist. I can feel hands on my face, then on the buttons of my vest... Oh no!

A sudden rush of air. A cough. A spurt of water.

Then I find myself gasping. I try to sit up, but I'm still too dizzy; an arm steadies me, and I look up to see the swimming instructor's concerned face. "Are you all right, Miss?" I nod at him, and he relaxes a bit. "What were you doing so near the pool?"

I'm cold! Shivering, I look down and immediately feel myself blushing. My skirt is up my thighs and my vest is open, revealing the wet white shirt underneath, clinging to the skin and obscenely showing off the contours of my breasts. Of all days to not wear a bra, why today?!

A quick glance around me and I blush even deeper! Most of the boys surrounding us are openly *staring* at my wet body, especially my breasts! I quickly button up my vest and turn to the instructor. "I-I'm sorry Mr. Sanders... I came to see Hikaru. I don't know exactly what happened... I think I was pushed from behind and hit my head when I fell in the pool."

He runs his hands over my scalp, and I wince when he touches the fresh bump on my head. "I don't think it's serious, but it'd be a good idea to go to the infirmary and check this out."

I feel something over my shoulders. After draping a towel around me, Hikaru turns to Mr. Sanders. "I'll take her to the infirmary. She came here because of me, after all." Mr. Sanders nods, and Hikaru helps me stand up. I sway a little, but we soon leave the swimming pool area.

***

Well, what can I say? It's not my fault I have such a thick skull!

Fortunately for me, the school physician declared I only need to get rid of my wet clothes, a hot shower and some rest for my headache.

So here I am, being 'escorted' to my dorm by Hikaru. All the passing students look at us and probably wonder why we are like this, me soaked to the bone and with a towel wrapped around my shoulders, Hikaru in equally wet clothes. My guess is, since he gave his towel to me, he got dressed without drying himself off.

I hear a muffled sound by my side and turn to him. "Why are you snickering?"

Hikaru gives me a sideway glance. "Just remembering the look on your face when you noticed your clothes. Really, Hillary, what a show! If I swung that way like the others, I'd be nosebleeding in half a second!"

My ears start burning again, and I think everyone in half a mile radius can hear my squeak. "Hikaru!!!"

He laughs. "No need to get so embarrassed, Hillary!" I can't help myself, and try to hit him upside the head. He ducks just in time and winks at me. "I bet from now on you'll have many admirers! All the boys were gaping at you, even Winner!"

I freeze in place. "W-what?!"

Giving me a knowing smile, Hikaru nods. "You heard me right. Even Winner was gaping at you! Honestly, I've never seen him show so much on his face, he was completely dumbfounded! ...Hey, are you all right, Hillary? You're pale!"

I shake my head. "It's nothing. Just a bit cold." We soon reach the dorm building, and I hand him the towel. "Thanks for coming with me, Hikaru. I'll go take a shower and sleep, see you tomorrow."

I quickly run to my room and lock the door. Sighing, I strip and go to the bathroom, also locking the door behind me. First things first, I have to take all the chlorine from my hair. And I simply *know* it will take a long time.

***

I said it would take a long time to wash my hair, didn't I?

Leaning against the wall, I let the warm water run down my body while I try to think about the situation. What am I going to do?

Heero knows. If Hikaru says he was surprised when he found out, I bet my braid he's now royally pissed. He's probably going to tell the others and also the doctors... then there will be hell to pay. Unless, of course, he kills me first.

Sighing again, I turn off the faucet and grab a towel. While I dry myself off, I can only think of what I'm going to do when I face Heero tomorrow. At least he won't kill me in front of the other students. Or so I hope.

What was that? It seemed... naw, must be just my imagination.

Wrapping the towel around me, I take another and start drying my hair. Hmm, better sit down on my bed, it will take a while. I unlock the door and step into the bedroom; a quick glance outside the window and I notice how dark it is outside... guess my shower took longer than I had thought, it's already dinnertime.

I go to the window and close the curtains, blocking the moonlight. Now there's only the bathroom light on, casting a soft light through the doorframe.

"If I were the enemy, you'd already be dead."

I freeze, and the towel in my hand falls to the floor. That voice...

A click, and the lamp on my bedside table is turned on. I slowly turn around, feeling my heart thumping inside my chest. And when my fear is confirmed, I feel my blood go cold.

Shit. It *is* Heero.

He's sitting on my bed, one knee drawn up and an elbow resting over it. Although he looks relaxed, I know better. And the scowl I see on his face only confirms it. "H-heero, what are you doing here? I-I thought we'd agreed to not meet in the dorms."

He stands up and walks toward me. I try to edge away from him, until my back hits the windowframe and I almost fall over. Now *that* would be ridiculous, falling over my open window wearing only a towel. I quickly glance behind me, but when I look at Heero again I start considering that as an option. We're almost nose-to-nose, and I can see murder in his eyes.

I gulp when he starts whispering menacingly. "I think you owe an explanation. And make it good."

"W-what are you talking about?"

He clenches his fists. And hisses, "About this!" at the same time he yanks the towel off me. I yelp and try to escape by the left, but after a couple of steps Heero grabs my arm and turns me around, almost snarling.

Thank heavens it's dinnertime, otherwise people would already be banging at my door, demanding to know what all the noise was. And if someone saw us like that, what would they think? A furious-looking Heero almost pulling a naked Duo's arm out of its socket... A naked *female* Duo, that is.

And in turning me around, the light from the bathroom hits me fully. Heero falters for a split-second, and I take the opportunity to wrench my arm back. I walk backwards until I can reach the main light switch, and flip it on.

It's the first time someone ever sees me completely naked, and I feel somewhat vulnerable; I have nothing to protect me, not even my braid. But I have no other choice, have I?

"Take a good look, Heero."

Raising an eyebrow, he does just that. His gaze travels up my body, and when our eyes meet I just shrug. "I don't think there's much else to explain. You already saw the evidence." I turn to the closet and open it, hiding myself behind its door. "And now that you made sure you weren't hallucinating at the swimming pool area, I'm going to get dressed."

"Why?"

He's moved right behind me and I almost jump, a bit startled. "Geez, Heero! Can't you at least let me get dressed? I won't answer any of your questions naked like this!"

He snorts, but backs away and sits on my bed. I quickly take some clothes and bundle them up on my front, heading toward the bathroom. Before closing the door I glance at Heero, and sure as hell don't like what I see: he's still pissed. I get dressed, go back to the bedroom and pick my towels from the floor.

And since I'm not suicidal, sitting beside Heero on the bed is *not* an option. I choose the desk and sit cross-legged on it, towel on my lap and brush on my hand. Hey, it's the farthest place from him in the bedroom.

"Now I'm ready. To answer you, that is."

Narrowed eyes try to burn holes on my head. "How many know of this?"

I feel a small pang inside my chest, and sigh. "Alive? Only Professor G, and now you."

"Did he know all along?"

"Of course. Why else do you think he insisted I was to be the one in this school? He did all this on purpose."

I can almost hear the gears turning inside Heero's head. What is it with him? I expected him to be surprised and pissed off, but not *confused*. "So that's the reason you take those injections."

Boy, is he slow today or what? "Yes, sort of..." I sigh, and attack the mass of hair pooling on my lap. "Listen, Heero. Just because you found out about my gender it doesn't change anything, okay? In a couple of weeks we'll finish this mission, leave this school and everything will be as always."

This time I do jump when Heero grabs my wrist and makes me look at him. Damn, to someone confused he's still too fast. "No."

Now it's my turn to be confused. "No? No what?"

"Everything will *not* be as always. You've been deceiving all of us! How long were you going to keep up the farce?"

No, not this *again*! "Heero, I... Look, I've never deceived any of you! You never asked if I was a boy, and I never said I was one! Besides, it doesn't make any difference! I'm the same Duo you've always known."

His hold on my wrist tightens a bit, but before he can say anything a knock sounds on my door. Heero quickly releases me and hides himself while I put on a dressing-gown and answer the door. "Yes?"

And come face-to-face to a worried Miss Adams. "Good evening, Miss Gordon. I was told what happened at the swimming pool today, and as you weren't down for dinner, I was a bit concerned... how are you feeling?"

Oh my, now *this*... "I'm feeling fine, Miss Adams. I just wasn't hungry, and decided to sleep earlier because of a headache. Oh, I'm sorry, wouldn't you like to come in?" Please, Heero, I hope you are well-hidden.

She smiles at me. "Thank you, Miss Gordon, but I think it would be better if I left you to your sleep. Please, don't hesitate to let me know if there is any problem." I nod at her. "Goodnight."

I close the door and lean against it for a second, then glance around the room. No Heero in here anymore, he probably took off while I answered the door.

Now what?

***

This morning classes were some of the worst ones I ever had! Well... perhaps the fact that Heero kept trying to glare me to death the whole morning yet not saying a word had something to do with it... It's a good thing I had agreed to have lunch in town with Hikaru today, I don't think I could sit at the same table as Heero in the cafeteria.

We had been dismissed from this afternoon's class in order to finish our Arts projects, so I decided to go to town and buy some more paints. Why? Because I'm going to use Shenlong in my project, so I'll need some shades of green different than the ones the school has to offer. As Hikaru asked to come along, we decided to take the opportunity to skip lunch in school. Don't get me wrong, the food in here *is* good... but I sometimes get the urge to eat some junk food, and what better opportunity than this one?

So, as soon as the last period is finished, I drop my books in my dorm room and run to the front gates. Inspector William takes note of the time I'm leaving and off I go with Hikaru.

***

I soon finish buying all I need and happily accept Hikaru's invitation to visit his house. I'm doing anything to be out of Heero's reach today!

As we leave the shop, I notice a small group of boys looking strangely at us and whispering among themselves. I don't like the way the tallest one eyes Hikaru, but when they turn around and go away I simply shrug it off.

My mistake.

Hikaru's house isn't in the best part of the city, that much I can tell. As we walk down the narrow streets, I feel we're being followed. I discretely look behind us, and confirm my suspicions: those boys are trying to look inconspicuous, and failing miserably, while following us.

"Hikaru," he raises an eyebrow at my whisper, "we're being followed."

He looks behind him and suddenly pales. Nervously, he whispers back, "Don't let them know we saw them, Hillary. And let's walk a bit faster."

We do just that. "Who are they?"

"A bad thing from the past. SHIT! They noticed!" Hikaru grabs my hand and yanks on it. "Come on, Hillary, RUN!"

We start running, and I can clearly hear one of the boys yelling at the others to catch us. I know I'm an excellent runner, so it comes as a big surprise when I realize Hikaru is running just as fast as I am. We try to lose them, ducking inside the alleyways, until a familiar noise reaches my ears.

A motorcycle engine.

And just as my mind processes this piece of info, the motorcycle zaps past us and stops sideways, blocking our passage. We stop and turn around, only to find out we are surrounded: the rest of the gang is quickly approaching, blocking the other side of the alleyway.

The five boys quickly surround us, smirks on their faces. The tallest one, supposedly the leader, starts laughing outloud when Hikaru stands defensively in front of me. "Long time no see, faggot! Did you miss us?"

It's the first time I ever see polite and mild-tempered Hikaru snarl. "I already told you before, stay away from me!"

"And miss all the fun? No fucking way!" The group starts snickering. The leader takes a look at me, then does a double-take. "Hey, a chick? Were you taking home a chick, faggot?"

"Leave her alone!"

Another boy speaks up. "Perhaps he found a cure, Dave."

The leader, Dave, shakes his head. "I doubt it." He takes a look at my school uniform, then whistles. "Hey, faggot, she's kinda pretty. And if she's in your school, she must be rich." Then the bastard *leers* at me. "Hey prettie, you're wasting your time with faggot-boy there. He's probably trying to get his hands in your wallet instead of your pants. Why don't you come here?" He winks at me, "I'm sure as hell more interested in getting in your pants than him."

I give him a glare, but the idiot just laughs. The boy behind me pulls on my braid and I turn around, glaring. I try to tug it back, but he doesn't let go; Hikaru turns around and moves to help me, and all the boys take the opportunity to launch themselves at us.

I'm roughly pushed out of the way, and hit the back of my head against a wall. Damn, now I'll have two bumps on my head! I see first black, then stars for some moments, until small cries make me look at Hikaru.

Shit! Five against one is cowardice! I stand as quickly as I can and run to help the fallen Hikaru, who is surrounded and being viciously kicked by those jerks. I manage to land a good blow on the first one, and a hard kick on the second. Before their minds can process the fact the 'pretty girl' they left on the ground is trying to beat the crap out of them, I land another punch, this time on 'Dave'.

"Hey! What is going on here?"

I hate soldiers. I really do. But I can't help but feel somewhat relieved when two soldiers, fully armed, come into the alleyway. Apparently the jerks hate them too, or are just afraid of them: they are already running away.

I try my best to look just like a terrified schoolgirl and start crying for help, adding some sobs for good effect. The soldiers buy the act, and one try to comfort me while the other uses a small radio to call for an ambulance and starts examining Hikaru. Our school uniform is easily recognizable, so the men don't try to question me on why we were attacked; they probably think it was a mugger attempt.

***

"How is he?"

Mr. Tsukino eyes me concernedly. "Are you all right, Hillary?"

I nod. "I'm fine. But what about Hikaru? How is he?"

He sits beside me on the waiting room, and sighs. "Not exactly well. A broken leg, some cracked ribs, a good hit on the head, some--" He stops abruptly and shakes his head. "But the doctor said he'd be able to go home in a few days." I nod at him, eyes downcast. "Hillary, thanks for staying with him."

I look up, and shake my head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Tsukino. I tried to help, I really did, but..."

He puts a hand on my shoulder. "Shh... Don't worry, Hillary, it's not your fault. I know you tried, but there was nothing you could have done."

I try to give him a smile, but fail miserably. He's wrong.

It may not have been my fault, but I *know* I could have done something. Before Hikaru got beaten up so badly.

***

"Miss Gordon?"

I look up from my untouched dinner to Niles Johnson, one of my classmates. "Yes?"

He hesitates a bit. "I... I heard of what happened this afternoon. Are you all right?"

Nodding, I smile at him. "Yes, I am. Thank you for asking, Mr. Johnson."

He returns the smile. "I'm glad to hear it. Miss Gordon, I... I know we are not very close classmates, not like you and Mr. Tsukino, but... I'd like to change that. Please, if you ever need anything, just let me know."

Oh, *please*, let it not be a rich boy's pick-up line. I really do *not* need this right now! "Thank you again, Mr. Johnson, I will."

"Good. Miss Gordon, I was wondering--" The sudden clatter of dishes turns our attention to Heero, who had noisily put his tray on my table. After getting a cold look from him, Niles backs up. "Oh, I'm sorry, but I have to go. Well, goodnight, Miss Gordon, Mr. Winner." With that, he turns and flees.

I raise an eyebrow at Heero. "Was that really necessary?"

He doesn't dignify me with an answer, and starts eating. But after some time, he looks at me. "You shouldn't have gone to that military hospital. You could have been recognized."

Grrrrr! Heero can be damn irritating sometimes! "I had to. I was with him when the soldiers found us, do you really think I could just go away? Besides... I was worried about him."

"What happened?"

I sigh. "We got cornered by a gang... I think they were after Hikaru."

"How many?"

"Five."

"And you let five street boys beat him up."

Swallowing the answer I'd like to give him back, I mentally count to ten. Calm down, Duo! Don't get the bait! "I didn't *let* them beat him up. I got into the fight, but when the soldiers appeared I had to pull back."

"Hn."

Somehow, his 'hn' sounds more aggressive than it should in my ears, and I get defensive. "Well, 'Mr. Speech', would you have done something better? If so, enlighten me... I'll remember it next time."

He gives me a reproachful look and says, "Make sure there's no next time, you've been attracting a lot of attention lately. Besides," he adds with a smirk, "your friend wouldn't like to go through the same thing again."

I abruptly get up, the chair screeching loudly against the floor. The few students around us glance up in surprise, but I pay them no attention.

The only thing I can see is red. And, in the middle of it all, an infuriating Heero Yuy trying to make me lose my temper. Guess what? He managed to do it. "Shut. Up." I turn on my heels and stalk off the cafeteria, fuming.

I hear footsteps behind me, and quicken my pace. But before I can break into a full run, Heero grabs my arm and drags me to a secluded corner. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

Damn it all, I'm already tired of this! I shake my arm free and snarl at him, "What the hell do *you* think you're doing?"

He seems quite surprised with my dog impersonation... perhaps I should have tried it earlier. "Look, I don't know what your problem is, Heero, and I really don't give a shit about it! Just get one little thing inside that thick skull of yours: I *know* it's a mission and I *know* what I have to do. So please save your sarcastic remarks to someone who wants them, and keep your sorry ass out of my way!"

I see his eyes narrowing and his mouth opening, but I beat him to it. "You were sent here to *help* me in this mission, not to keep pestering me! *If* I ever need help, you'll be the first one to know it! Until then, GET LOST!"

Before Heero can even blink, I turn on my heels again and dash off to the dorm building. And as soon as I reach my room, a weird feeling makes itself known, and I go to the bathroom.

Damn! The perfect ending to a shitty day!

No wonder I'm feeling so bitchy! I was PMS-ing!

And so off I go in search of that blasted box of tampons, cursing aloud all the while. Damn mood swings!

***

PART SIX -- Heero's decision

 

It's been three days since I last spoke to Heero, yet I'm still fuming inside... although he's not talking to me, Heero's been following me around school... and it's driving me crazy!

After talking with Hikaru's father (and inconspicuously messing around while he takes his coffee break), I learn Hikaru's already home, so I decide to pay him a visit. Mr. Tsukino gives me the address and tells me how to find a hidden key to the front door. I go to my room, change, and quickly leave the school. Wonder of wonders, nothing happens along the way, and I'm soon unlocking his front door. Without waiting for a response, I enter the house and go to Hikaru's room, just as his father told me to do.

Well, at least Hikaru isn't as bad as I had thought... "Hi there..."

"Hillary! Come in!"

I sit on a chair near his bed. "I know this sounds stupid, but... are you okay, Hikaru?"

He nods. "Don't worry, I'm fine. What about you? Are you all right?"

"Yes, I am. Hikaru... I'm sorry. I should have done something to help you, but I--"

Hikaru interrupts me. "Hey, hey! No need to get so upset, Hillary!" At my look, he sighs. "I knew some day or another those creeps would do this... they've been trying to get me for a long time now. And there was nothing you could have done to prevent this."

I open my mouth to protest, but he interrupts me again. "No buts, Hillary! And I'd like to forget this, please." I nod, and he smiles. "Hey, how long do you have? Father left me a old-fashioned videotape, why don't we watch it together?"

Smiling, I nod again. Soon we are engrossed in the movie, and the afternoon quickly flies away.

As soon as I leave Hikaru's house, I glance at my watch. Shit, it's later than I had thought... better hurry back. I quicken my pace and, stupid that I am, don't notice a boy watching me until too late.

The first thing I notice is that it's that Dave-guy, then I am suddenly pushed from behind into the alleyway. Glaring, I turn around and face those same five jerks of before. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

One of the jerks sneers at me. "Hey, I don't think a rich chick like you should be cursing like this! Where are your manners?"

I clench my fists and glare some more. The bastards just chuckle! Well, I haven't been in a good mood for some time now, guess it's time to burn some pent-up frustration... and what better way than use someone who deserves it?

The five start closing up on me, and I back to the end of the alleyway. By the grin on their faces, it's obvious they think I'm backing in fear. Ooh, they won't see it coming until too late...!

But they stop when they make a half-circle around me, and one of them rubs his bruised jaw. "Hey, Dave! Don't you think this chick packs a good punch?"

Dave-the-idiot also rubs his jaw, and snarls, "Yeah, too good for a rich spoiled chick." He turns to his friends and grin. "What do you think, guys? Knowing fag-boy, he'd probably look for someone like him... Perhaps she's not a chick at all."

What?! Is he implying I'm a cross-dresser? Well, I *am* a cross-dresser, but at the moment I'm wearing the right kind of clothes!

Someone snickers, and says, "Well, only one way to find out!"

The five go down on me like vultures, but oh, they won't get it so easily. I'm pissed, I'm bitchy, and I want to let some steam off. I can almost ignore it when I get a punch in the stomach and another in the face, but when I feel someone grabbing my crotch... I cry out in rage and go for the kill.

But a shadow joins in the scuffle, and when I finally get myself under control I see the five jerks sprawled on the ground, unconscious. I turn around, and am not surprised to see Heero standing there with that familiar scowl on his face.

He followed me. Figures.

We glare at each other for a split-second, until I feel a cool breeze somewhere I shouldn't, and look down. Great, my skirt is ripped open almost up to my waist! I make a quick check-up on my appearance and am not happy with what I find; my hair is disheveled, my clothes are dirty and ripped, and I can feel the beginnings of a bruise on my cheek.

How in the seven hells am I gonna explain this to Inspector William?

I look up and am startled to see Heero near me, checking up my state. Before I can even think, I snarl, "Back off!"

Apparently that's not the reaction he expected from me, since he looks quite surprised. With a frown, he takes off his jacket and gives it to me. "Tie this around your waist and let's go."

It's my turn to look surprised, but I do as told and tie his jacket around me, careful to cover the rip on my skirt. As we walk, I struggle to get my hair somewhat presentable, and soon have a loose ponytail thrown over one of my shoulders. Giving Heero a sideways glance, I ask, "Why have you been following me?"

He stiffens, and starts walking faster. "What will you say when we get back at school?"

I shrug. "The truth." At Heero's raised eyebrow, I elaborate, "I'll tell I went to visit Hikaru, and the same gang that attacked us that day got to me. You were passing by and, as a proper gentleman, came to rescue the damsel in distress."

He snorts, and that is the last sound between us until we reach the school gates.

***

Thank heavens! I thought for sure Miss Adams would never let me leave the infirmary!

After convincing Inspector William to let us in, both Heero and myself were taken to the infirmary, where Miss Adams barged into like she was about to have a heart attack. She fussed over us, asking what happened and how we were feeling, poking the poor doctor to examine us from head to toes and make sure there was nothing more than the visible bruises on our faces (and the one on my stomach), praising Heero on his chivalrous attitude toward me and so on.

What a pain!

After finally managing to convince her nothing *else* happened to me besides the obvious bruises (guess the ripped skirt gave her the wrong idea) and reassuring her there was no need to call the authorities (to which she sighed, relieved the school wouldn't be involved in a scandal) she finally let me go to my room. Which is where I am now, or better yet, was. At this exact moment I'm in the shower, washing the day off.

I finish my shower and go to the bedroom... straight into a scene of déjà vu.

Heero is on my bed, seated exactly the same way as five nights before. And exactly like that night, I'm wrapped in only a towel, staring at him.

At least this time he lets me get dressed without scaring the shit out of me...

I once more sit onto my desk, facing him. Only this time I'm the one who wants answers. "I don't think you've answered my question, Heero. Why were you following me?"

"I knew you'd get into trouble."

BLEEP!!! Bad answer, Heero! Comes into scene once-more-pissed-off Duo! "What do you mean...?"

"I'm taking over this mission from now on."

Scratch that, it's overly-pissed Duo's time! "What??!!"

He glares at me. "It's the third time in less than a week that you get into trouble and attract attention to yourself. I won't have your public displays affecting our cover."

I stare at him in disbelief. My public displays??? Damn, if it weren't for Heero, I wouldn't have left school with Hikaru the day he got beaten up! And if Hikaru hadn't gotten beaten up that day, I wouldn't have left school today to go visit him! "Damn it, Heero, if it weren't for you none of this would have happened!"

At his inquisitive look, I snarl, "If you hadn't been in the swimming pool when I fell, you wouldn't have found out I'm a girl! If you hadn't started accusing me of deceiving you like that, I wouldn't have gone out with Hikaru, he wouldn't have been beaten up, and I wouldn't have visited him today!"

Unreasonable, me? Nah, just your imagination...

Heero shrugs, and stands up. "If you want to blame me for your carelessness, suit yourself. What really matters is that I'm taking over this mission." With that, he crosses the room toward his exit -- namely, the window.

Before he can hop off the window, I grab his wrist, and do something I never saw anyone doing before: I threaten Heero, in the most frigid tone of voice I can muster. "I've been doing all I can to accomplish this mission without getting Hikaru's father in trouble, and I won't let you do anything that will lay the blame on him. You got me, Yuy?"

He yanks his wrist free and jumps off the window without even glancing at me. Fuming, I stalk to my bed, throw aside the covers, and drop down, tired.

I just hope tomorrow gets better.

***

My eyes widen when I glance at the clock. I overslept!

I quickly get dressed and dash toward the cafeteria, where simply *everyone* present stares at me. When realization dawns on me, it takes all my concentration to not bang my head on the table.

I forgot to put make-up on! My bruised face is exposed to everyone to see!

Damn! Today doesn't look very promising to me! I gulp down my breakfast as soon as I can, then go back to my room. I put on the make up, careful to cover the bruise as much as possible, and plop down on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I stay like that for a long time, until a knock sounds on my door. Sighing, I get up and open it, just to be told by one of the school employees that Miss Adams wants to see me. I nod in thanks, then make my way to her office.

What now?

***

"Miss Gordon, please take a seat."

Doing as told, I sit down and wait. After a moment's silence, Miss Adams sighs, and turns sad eyes towards me. "I'm afraid I don't have very good news, Miss Gordon. Your grandfather has just contacted me."

I freeze. What now? Is it really G, or is it Quatre? After all, he is my contact... he's the one sending me mail, pretending my 'grandfather' kept in touch with me. Did something happen?

"I honestly don't know how he managed to find out, Miss Gordon... All I know is that somehow your grandfather learned about both attacks upon you, and in fear for your safety he is asking for your return. Someone will be here tomorrow afternoon to take you to the spaceport."

What?! Leave the school? What about the mission? My confusion must have been plainly visible on my face, for Miss Adams shakes her head. "I'm truly sorry things came to this, but there's nothing I can do anymore, Miss Gordon... I just hope your grandfather doesn't harbor ill feelings towards me because of this as well."

I get up and turn to go, but before I can leave her office, Miss Adams speaks up one more time. "I know you'd like to go visit your friend once more before you leave, Miss Gordon, but you're not allowed to leave campus, not even accompanied. I'm sorry."

***

For the second time since I came to this school, I miss lunchtime. Instead, I find myself inside my room, alternating between packing these stupid girl things and pacing around.

What the hell is going on here? Why am I being sent away?

Realization suddenly dawns on me, and I smack myself for being so stupid.

Heero! He must be the one responsible for this, since I threatened to be in his way! That bastard!

I leave my room, fury in my eyes. If that idiot thinks I'll let him do things his way -- the destructive one -- he's terribly mistaken. I have a reason and a way to do things right, I won't let his narrow-minded objectives do more damage than they're supposed to.

My initial search for Heero ends up in vain; he's nowhere to be seen. And when I pass by the computer building, I hear someone calling me. I turn back, and am surprised to see Mr. Tsukino eyeing me up and down, a sad expression on his face. "Hillary? Can I talk to you for a moment?"

I nod and follow him into the computer room. He sits and motions for me to do the same, then sighs. "I was told what happened to you yesterday... Hillary, I'm truly sorry. I know all this happened because you were hanging around my son; that gang has been terrorizing Hikaru ever since he was little, and I knew it... I just never thought things would come to this."

Blinking, I ask, "Ever since he was little? What do you mean?"

He sighs again. "Hikaru told you about his mother?" I nod, and he continues, "Well, when I went to fetch him, those boys were already taunting him... and when Hikaru came to my house, they started following him around. I saw them once or twice, but they never went past verbal assaults, and Hikaru never looked bothered by them... I just assumed they weren't that dangerous." Mr. Tsukino curses loudly, then puts his hands over his face. "God, what kind of father am I? I should have noticed Hikaru was just trying to cover up and not worry me! My omission put not only him in danger, but his friends as well!"

I don't know what to say. He's a jerk if he knew and didn't do anything, but at the same time... he's visibly sorry, worried and regretful... "Mr. Tsukino, it's all right. Don't blame yourself for all this mess... Those boys are the ones responsible for this."

He shakes his head, then looks at me. "No, it's also my fault... But I know what to do now. I know Hikaru isn't happy here, not with those boys harassing him, the other students treating him badly and all the bad memories he has of this city... I've been offered another job, in Luxembourg... and I accepted it. Perhaps a fresh start will do both of us good."

I nod to him. "Yes, it sounds like a good idea, Mr. Tsukino."

He stands up and steps closer to me, putting a hand on my left shoulder. "I know you're the only friend he's ever had in this school, even though you've been here for so little time. I truly thank you for this, Hillary. I'll be leaving in a few days, so you won't see Hikaru in school anymore. Why don't you come visit him?"

Looking up, I give him a sad smile. "I'm afraid that won't be possible... My grandfather found out about that gang, and he's sending someone to take me back tomorrow... until then, I'm forbidden to leave school."

Mr. Tsukino frowns. "I didn't know that. Perhaps I should call, or write, to your grandfather and apologize to him. And I owe you an apology as well."

I shake my head in negative, and put my hand over his, still on my shoulder. "There's no need to apologize, not to him and surely not to me. I already told you, this wasn't your fault." He nods and smiles to me, and I smile back. "But could you do me a favor? Could you say goodbye to Hikaru for me?"

"Of course, Hillary! I'll tell him you're leaving as well, I think he'll be relieved you won't be seeing those boys either."

"Thank you." I get up, and nod to him one last time. "I must be going now, I have to finish a few things... it was a pleasure knowing both you and Hikaru, Mr. Tsukino, I won't forget you."

He surprises me by taking my hand and kissing it, the same way Hikaru did when we first met. "I say the same, Hillary. We won't forget you, you are a good friend."

***

After leaving the computer room, I make my way toward the library. I notice there's one study room booked for the afternoon, and feel my fury coming back when I see Heero is the one who booked it. I go inside and lock the door, even putting a chair under the door handle. I turn around and find myself facing an impassive Heero, eyebrow raised in question.

Infuriating.

"You are the one who did that. Why?"

He looks at me like I'm a moron and replies, "You aren't needed here anymore. I just used the opportunity to justify your disappearance."

Yeah, those attacks are a damn good excuse for my leaving the school. But I don't have to like it! "You're just doing this because you think I'm in your way."

"You are. You're letting your feelings for that boy get in the way of the mission."

"Damn you, Heero! It's not that, you know I would never endanger the mission! I just don't want Hikaru's father to get blamed once the network stops working!"

"Why? Afraid your little boyfriend gets in trouble because of his father?"

I grit my teeth. "I already told you, he's *not* my boyfriend! We're just friends!"

Heero snorts. "Why so protective, then? Looks just like a girlfriend, or a mother hen."

Why am I more emotional than usual?! I bang my fists on the table, and lean forward to look him in the eye. "I'm. NOT. His. Girlfriend! Damn, how many times do I have to say that? He's GAY, for God's sake!"

*That* surprised Heero, that much I can tell. I opened the dam, might as well let all flow out. "Do you know why those jerks followed then beat him up? Because they found out Hikaru is gay, Heero! And do you know why they wanted to get me? Because they thought I was a boy in drag!"

I turn around and start pacing in front of the huge table, silently thanking the study room's thick and soundproof walls. "Why am I so protective of him? Because he has something I wanted all my life, Heero! He has a family now, a family who wants him for what he really is, and loves him!"

Stopping abruptly, I turn to Heero once more. "Hikaru isn't Mr. Tsukino's real son, he's an orphan, just like me. The difference is that he got adopted and has a father now... a father that is now leaving the city just because he thinks it's the best thing for Hikaru. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an adoptive father that really cares for you? Have you ever thought of that?"

Heero looks at me in the eyes, silent. I sigh, and brush my bangs aside. "Hikaru's father is quite poor, Heero. Yet he took him in, and he does everything he can to make sure Hikaru has a good life. I don't want him to be blamed for our mission, and be punished; who knows what may happen to him? Especially now that he's planning on leaving the city... If they think he messed with the base's computers then ran away, they'd come after him!"

"Then no one would find out it was us."

WHAT?! I reach out and grab the front of his shirt, shaking him a little. "Fuck you, Heero! Are you planning on using him as a scapegoat? *You* have been used as a scapegoat before, did you like it?!" I push him away, and growl. "Have you no compassion, Heero? That boy has everything many ever dreamed of having, me included, now you want to screw him up? He may be our age, but he's still a child! Are you willing to destroy an innocent child's life because of a mission?"

Wow, Heero winced! I finally got a reaction out of him! But then he ruins my mood: he silently gathers his things, walks past me, kicks both the chair aside and the door open, and leaves the study room.

Should I follow him and rant some more? No, I think I'd better leave things like this... at least for now.

I just hope he thinks about what I said.

***

PART SEVEN -- Returning home; no more secrets

 

Damn! I have to admit it, when Heero doesn't want to be found, he isn't! I've been searching *everywhere* for him, yet I haven't even glimpsed that brown hair of his! And now I'm running out of time!

A knock sounds on my door, and someone just says my 'escort' has arrived.

Great! Just great!

I open the door and let the school employee take my baggage, then make the opposite route I took all those weeks ago. I find Miss Adams outside, talking with a big man near the car. I do a double-take... Rashid?!

My surprise is swallowed when Miss Adams turns to me, and we exchange brief good-byes. Which quickly turns into shock when she *hugs* me! I never thought she would do that! I hurry into the car and wait for Rashid to do the same (get into the car, not hurry!). We leave the school grounds and stay in silent for a moment... until I notice him looking at me from the rearview mirror.

I raise an eyebrow at him. "Is something wrong?"

He chuckles. "Master Quatre asked me to come fetch you, he said he wouldn't manage to look convincing as a chauffer... but he never told me I would see you like this, Master Duo."

I can only shrug. "Yeah, this mission came as a surprise to me, too. And if you want my opinion, it really sucked! I'm glad I won't have to wear these things anymore!"

He laughs outloud, and I just smile. He must be surprised by my silence, for I don't say one more word during our way back... until I notice he isn't taking the same way Trowa did. "Where are we going?"

"Master Quatre is in a different house than the one you were staying in. He asked me to take you there, I believe he also moved your things to the same place."

"Oh." And that was that. I think I dozed off a little, for the next thing I know, we are already in front of the house (bad Duo! How can you sleep while being taken to an unknown place? Quatre may trust Rashid, but it doesn't mean you can let your guard down like that!). I take the suitcase (I want to simply kick it away and be done with it, but then I remember the suitcase is Quatre's) and head in.

The house is small, but comfortable. The first thing I see when I come in is Quatre, seated at the table reading something. He moment he hears me, he stands up and comes to my side. "Duo? Is everything all right?"

"Yeah, Quatre. Why?"

He eyes me up and down. "Don't know... I just know Heero sent me a message, saying I was to contact the principal as Hillary's grandfather and tell about a couple of attacks, and that I was to demand your return at once... what was that about?"

Yep, I just *knew* it was Heero's doing! Damn him! "It's nothing, Quatre. He just took the excuse to justify my leaving the school." At the fucking wrong time, but it *was* a good excuse. "I just want to take a shower and get rid of these things... maybe make a bonfire out of them."

He smiles, relieved. "It's up to you, Duo. I took the liberty of packing your things and bringing them when I moved in, they are in the bedroom, first door on the left."

I nod, and make my way to the room. When I get inside and take a look, I can't help but sigh.

Two beds.

I was meant to room with someone else... probably Heero. But now that he knows about me, I don't think he'd want that, either. So I leave the room and look into the others. One of them has only one bed, and a quite big one at that... I grin to myself, and go take my things.

Sorry, Wufei... guess you'll be bunking with soldier-boy this time.

***

After moving my things to my new room (I could see Quatre wondered at that, but I didn't want to explain anything at the moment) and taking a good shower, I make my way to living room. Quatre is back at reading, and I take a look over his shoulder. "What are you so interested in, Quatre?"

He turns to me, and looks surprised at my face... guess the make-up *did* hide well the bruise. Before he can say anything, I shake my head. He gets the hint (thank heavens *someone* in our little group is sensible enough!) and just answers, "I was just checking up if the others sent any messages. Trowa and Wufei will be back in three days."

"And Heero?"

"I don't know, he didn't contact me. My guess is just a couple of days after Trowa and Wufei leave the base."

Five days! We would need just five more days, and yet here I am, like a child who was sent away from all the fun!

I repeat myself. Damn!

***

Time is a funny thing... the faster we want it to go, the slower it seems to pass. I contacted G and told him exactly what happened during the mission, that Heero found out about my gender and would probably tell the others as soon as possible, and that soon everyone else would know it. Oddly enough, G didn't send an answer to my message.

Trowa and Wufei made it back in three days, like Quatre said. Wufei seemed displeased to find the only one-person room in the house already taken... he just eyed me long and hard, seemingly about to say something, but he didn't, much to my relief.

The 'silent ones' pretty much ignore me, so I don't have anyone to talk to besides Quatre... but then again, that's the way things are, right? So here we are, the day after the others returned, seated at the same table, when a message comes in. Quatre reads it and nods to himself, then turns to me. "It's Heero, he says he's coming back today."

I raise an eyebrow at that. He's earlier than expected... Quatre seems to be thinking the same thing, for he sighs and says, "Guess he was right, after all... it's a good thing he took my place in this mission."

Now both my eyebrows are up. "What are you talking about?"

Quatre shakes his head. "I was the one supposed to back you up in the school... but then Heero pointed out he knows more about computers than I do, and he took my place."

WHAT?! He wasn't even supposed to be in that school?! Grrrr!

Ignoring Quatre's look, I make my way to my bedroom, and throw myself on the bed.

All this could have been avoided! Why am I being so unlucky lately?

***

Much later, I find myself sitting alone in the living room's couch, sulking. Things could have gone so much easier than they did... Heero could have not taken Quatre's place and not have found out my gender... then I wouldn't be here, wondering when he'll drop the bomb.

And talking about the devil... here he is, standing in front of the couch and looking down at me... and I have the nagging feeling he's also looking down *on* me. "What do you want?"

"Have you told them?"

I know what he's talking about... but he doesn't know it. "Told what?"

"About you."

I shrug. "There's nothing to tell."

His eyes narrow. "So you haven't told them."

"I already told *you* it doesn't matter. So there's no need to give them any unnecessary info."

Wow, he looks pissed! "You think *this* is unnecessary info?"

Is he implying what I think he's implying? I surely hope not! "Why do you think telling them is so important?"

"Because we have to know our own weaknesses in order to work better."

Yep, he *is* implying that. I get up and stand face-to-face with him. "Why? Do you think my gender is a weakness? Do you think I'd pilot better had I been a man?"

He looks back at me, impassive. "I haven't said that."

"Well, you sure as hell sound like that! Damn, we've been coming and going together for how long, Heero? And all this time, have I screwed up worse than any of you? Wait, don't answer that," I give him a snort, "you'll probably say yes. But answer me this, Heero... do you really think a dick makes that much a difference in a pilot's skills?"

Silence. It hurts, to think all the mistakes I've ever done, and all the ones I'll ever do, will be considered because of my gender. I turn to go, but Heero grabs my right arm and turns me back to face him. "No. But we aren't finished here yet."

I try to yank my arm free, but he simply doesn't let go. "I think we are, Heero. I *won't* tell the others any of this, you go ahead if you want. I'll be on my way, anyway."

"What do you mean?"

"We won't be together in this house for long, and not all missions needs us together. Since you're bothered now that you found out, I won't stand in your way... nor the others', for that matter. I've always been by myself, this time won't be an exception." I struggle some more and stand with my back to him. "Now let go of me!"

His hand tightens a bit, and he simply says, "No." Hey, I'm tired of this already! If he doesn't want to do it the nice way... "Heero, I told you to let go of me. Don't make me do anything drastic."

"Like what?"

Damn him! "Like this!" I quickly turn around and punch him in the stomach. Now, my left hook is quite weak compared to my right one, and I really didn't put that much force in it, but combined with the surprise (I guess Heero didn't expect me to hit him!) his hold relaxes a bit, and I manage to get my arm back. Go me!

He rubs his stomach and just keeps eyeing me. Had it been another time, he'd get pissed and try to hit me back; Heero is so obsessed about that 'evening the score' way of thinking... take Noventa as an example! He killed the guy, and the next thing you know, he's asking his family to kill him! Or when he robbed me... he later took down that MS and told that made us even! "Well?"

"Well what?"

"Aren't you going to hit me back, Heero? To even the score?" He looks surprised for a moment, then scowls. "Is that what you want?"

I snort again. "Had I done it before, you'd slog me without a thought. No, I don't want you to hit me... but I'd really like to be treated as an equal. Just because you're a man, it doesn't mean you're better than me."

He looks me in the eyes... and smirks. "As you wish..."

And the next thing I know, I'm panting on the floor, holding my stomach. Damn, the bastard sure hits hard!

"Yuy! What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Oddly enough, I feel Wufei helping me up... that's not something I expected him to do, especially since Quatre is with him... and Trowa, for that matter.

Hey, is this some kind of cosmic joke? Why the hell are all of them here at once?

Wufei seats me on the couch, then turns and glares at Heero. Quatre and Trowa look surprised as well, but I have the feeling their surprise is more because of Wufei's reaction than the fact Heero just hit me. I know that's my case. "Well? Why the violence, Yuy?"

"*She* asked for it."

Silence. Then three voices say at once, "What?"

"I said, *she* asked for it. Duo hit me, then asked if I wasn't going to hit her back. I just did that."

Hey! "I didn't ask you to hit me, I just said I wanted you to treat me as an equal!"

Heero raises an eyebrow at me. "Which I just did. I wouldn't have done that if I thought you were inferior."

Wow, now I'm flattered... "Jerk."

Quatre sounds pretty confused (well, who wouldn't?). "Wait a minute, did you just call Duo 'she'?"

I think this is my cue to go... I get up and make to leave, but Heero takes my arm again and prevents my escape. "Yes. During this mission, I found out Duo is a woman."

Well, one of Heero's qualities *is* his bluntness... the other three look between Heero and myself like we've just grown a second head, then Wufei shakes his own. "What kind of joke is that, Yuy?"

"It's not a joke. I saw her naked, and I'm not 'hallucinating', as Duo put it before." Then Heero turns to me. "Show them."

What?! "Hey, I don't have to show anything to anyone!" I see his eyes narrowing and his hand twitching, "And don't you dare try to take off my clothes! You saw me naked before, and you did take a good look, I'm not about to let you do that again!"

Quatre cuts off whatever Heero's response would be. "Duo... is it... is it true?"

I sigh. "Heero, let go of me." This time he does, and I sit back. "Yeah, that's true." I look at them, and see their confusion. "If you want an explanation, better sit down. You guys look almost into shock."

They do just that, and I notice (much to my consternation) that none of them sit besides me... Wufei even sits on the floor! Quatre looks at me. "Duo?"

I brush my bangs aside. "What can I say? I never knew my parents, in my earlier memories I was already alone... I always thought I was a boy. Damn, I only learned there was a difference when I was about seven!"

By the look on their faces, even Heero's, I can tell they weren't expecting that. Well, it's not something you hear everyday, I have to admit that. "Even after I learned the differences, I still thought of myself as a boy. When G started training me, he thought I was male... and when he found out, I was sure he would kill me, but he didn't."

I pause for a moment, then sigh again and keep on. "Then I noticed I wasn't growing into a boy's body... I didn't want to be a woman, so when I asked for help, G started giving me hormone injections," I look pointedly at Heero, who nods, "and it kept on for some time. When I finally realized and accepted I was a woman... I decided to keep on pretending I wasn't one. And I would still be doing that, if it weren't for Heero." I glare at him, but he just ignores it.

Quatre looks pensive for a moment, then asks, "But why pretend like that?"

"I've spent most of my life in the streets, Quatre. If life in the streets is tough for a boy, can you imagine for a girl? And now I'm fighting in a war... how hard do you think war is for women? Many think women are incompetent," I glance briefly at Wufei, "and many think nothing but to take advantage of them. Pretending I was a boy was a good way of avoiding both problems... If Oz finds out one of the Gundam pilots is a woman, they'll probably try to take her down first... eliminate the 'weak link' first, if you get my meaning."

I look at them for a moment, and am surprised to see some kind of understanding in Trowa's eyes. Perhaps there's a chance they'll come to accept it... I get up and turn to go. "I know my reasons may sound weird to you, or lame, but they were all I ever had. I'm sorry for disappointing you, but this was something I had to do, and I don't regret it." With that, I leave for my bedroom.

***

To my surprise, no one says anything when I show up for breakfast. I look around and notice Trowa is absent, but before I can even ask about him, Quatre supplies me with an answer. "Trowa left earlier this morning, he had a mission."

Nodding, I take my place on the table beside Quatre, a coffee mug in my hands. After some moments of silence, he speaks up again. "Duo?"

I turn to him. He hesitates a moment, then says, "Yesterday... we've talked after you left. And we realized you were right... if someone finds out you're a girl, they'll think it'll be easier to defeat you, and try to concentrate on you first; that would bring us problems. So we decided it'd be better if no one finds out... if you want to keep up pretending you're male, we won't tell anyone."

Well, I'm surprised! I was kinda hoping for that, but not really expecting it! "I... I wasn't expecting this..." I look at each one of them, "but thank you." They look somewhat uncomfortable, especially Wufei, but they nod back. "But... what about the doctors?" This one is directed to Heero, I know the guy doesn't even *breathe* without Dr. J allowing him to.

He turns to me. "We haven't told them... yet. But they are our superiors, we shouldn't withhold information from them."

I sigh in defeat. "I just knew you would say that... Go ahead, there's nothing I can do to prevent it, anyway. I just hope G's got his ears covered when they find out, they'll throw a hissing fit."

Quatre looks somewhat amused by the prospect, but he doesn't comment it. Instead, he reaches out and takes one of my hands, squeezing it lightly. "Duo... all this came as a big surprise to us all, me included... but I want you to know that I still consider you a dear friend..." he then smirks at me! "...and that I still wish I had a brother like you."

I simply stare at him in disbelief... then throw my arms around his neck and give him a bear-like hug. "Thank you... This means a lot to me." Then I remember we have an audience, and let him go. Embarrassed, I shake my head, finish my coffee, and leave them; even with Quatre's reassurance, I'm not in the mood to hang around, not with them still digesting my little secret. And despite their telling me they'll pretend nothing happened, I simply know things will change between us... even between Quatre and me.

Guess Heero was right after all. Everything will *not* be as always.

***

PART EIGHT -- Wufei's admission; Duo's decision
 

After an uneventful day (mostly because I spent it avoiding the others), I take a hot shower and go back to my room; as soon as I finish braiding my hair, I hear a knock on the door. I stand up and open it, not caring about the fact I'm wearing only a pair of boxers and a white shirt; there's nothing to hide anymore.

Wufei looks up then quickly looks down again. "Maxwell... Can I speak with you for a moment?"

Nodding, I stand aside and let him come into my room. "Sure, do you need something from me?" I sit on the bed and I gesture for him to do the same. After just a moment's hesitation, he does it and just stays like that, head bowed and hands on his lap. "Wufei? Is something wrong?"

He looks me in the eyes. "There's something I have to tell you, Duo. Something very important to me."

I gulp. He never used my first name before. "So tell me..."

He takes in a deep breath. "I once had a very strong and worthy woman by my side, Duo. She was better than me in every aspect, and because of that we didn't get along as well as we were supposed to. I must admit both of us, myself especially, were too proud to admit we respected and admired each other..."

His eyes are slightly glazed over, like he's somewhat lost in the long-gone past... which he probably is. I can't help but wonder exactly why he's telling me those things... I shift in my place, and he focus on the present again. "As time progressed, I realized I liked her... and perhaps, if we had had the time, I could have loved her. But we weren't granted time... and she died before I could have told her how I truly felt."

Confusion must be plainly written on my face, for he looks at me and adds, "She was my wife, Duo. It was an arranged marriage, but a marriage nonetheless. Her name was Meiran. She was Nataku."

Shit, he named his Gundam after his dead wife! And Duo-the-loudmouth made fun of him! "I'm sorry, Wufei. I didn't know."

He gives me a bitter smile. "It's okay, Duo, none of you was supposed to. And you are the only one I ever told this."

"I don't mean to sound rude, but why exactly me? I mean, I always thought you considered me just a brainless and loudmouthed idiot."

He looks completely stunned by my question. "What?! Duo, I *never* considered you an idiot! Loudmouthed, yes, sometimes annoying... but I know you are more than what meets the eye." I feel my face burning, and hope he doesn't notice it. Fortunately, he just keeps talking, this time almost in a whisper, "As for why... I wanted you to know I've made mistakes before, and I regret them. I won't make the same ones anymore. I won't deny nor hide my feelings."

I start when he moves closer and takes one of my hands. In the most serious tone of voice I've ever heard coming from him, he looks me in the eye once more and says, "I... I like you, Duo; I respect and admire you very much. And... I'm slowly but undeniably falling in love with you. You are one of the most remarkable women I've ever met in my life."

I jerk my hand back and ignore the hurt that crosses his face, turning my face to the side and pretending I'm examining the curtains. "Is that why you never told anything? Because you thought I was a boy? If Heero hadn't found out I'm a girl and told you the truth, would you have stayed quiet and let me keep on thinking you didn't give a damn about me?"

"Duo, look at me. Please." I feel Wufei taking my hand again, and turn to him. Funny thing, I've never thought Wufei could look so... tender?! "I must admit it was, at first, one of the reasons I never told you. I shocked even myself, I've never thought I would fall for a man! But... but as time progressed, I realized it didn't matter you were a boy, and that I was falling for you harder and harder. Duo, I... I was afraid. Afraid that, if I told you, you'd be disgusted with me. I didn't want to lose you as a friend."

Looking down at our intertwined fingers, he sighs. "But when you were assigned that mission and I saw you first complaining, then resigning yourself to follow the orders and finally dressing up like that... It reminded me of when Meiran was told we were to get married. And then I remembered how much I regretted never telling her my feelings, and decided to not make the same mistake with you. I made up my mind to tell you as soon as I came back, but I hesitated, and then with all the fuss Yuy made about you, it became impossible."

Silence. After a moment's hesitation, I give his hand a light squeeze. "Thank you, Wufei. No one has ever said they loved me before."

I can practically see his eyes sparkling with hope. "Duo? Do... do you...?"

Shaking my head, I avert my eyes. "I don't know, Wufei. I know I like you, but I'm not sure if I like you *that* way. I... I'm not that experienced with love."

"Duo, would you... would you let me show you? What love is, and how being loved feels like?"

I stare at him, wide-eyed, as he slowly raises my hand and places an open-mouthed kiss on the palm. What should I do? What should I say? I know what he's offering me...

Do I really know?

Wufei must have taken my silence as an agreement, for now his hand is cupping my face. I feel as if I'm seeing things on TV. I know it's happening, I know it's happening to *me*, but I'm completely frozen. I can see his face inching closer, feel his breath upon my lips...

Ohshitohshitohshit! He's kissing me! It's horrible, it's warm, it's wet, it's disgusting...

...it's warm...

...it's kinda nice...

I feel his lips part a little, and something is touching mine...

His tongue!

I stiffen, and Wufei pulls away, a searching look on his face. If I look half as terrified as I'm feeling right now, he'll soon have his answer. Apparently he does; his eyes soften and he embraces me, resting his chin on my shoulder and his arms around my waist.

I mentally scold myself. I may have never done it, but I've seen sex so many times I practically know all the moves by heart. Why am I so afraid of some kissing?

We stay like that for some minutes, until I hesitantly raise my arms and put them around his waist. Wufei starts kissing my neck, and I feel goosebumps forming on my skin. Here we go again.

His hands are heavy and warm, splayed across my back, traveling up and down, at the same time soothing and demanding... His mouth is hot, trailing wet kisses from my neck up to my ear and... ooooohhhhh!!! I never knew I was so sensitive there!

I feel his hands leaving my back and settling on the upper button of my shirt. I open my mouth, but before I can say anything his mouth is on mine again and oh! This time his tongue is inside me, stroking, probing, tasting...

By the time we break the kiss I feel Wufei's hot breath on my now naked shoulder. Oh my--! H-he took my shirt off! His arms are around me again, and I wriggle uncomfortably, trying to break free without hurting him. Once more I open my mouth to protest, and once more he kisses me. But this time he pushes me down on the bed, his mouth never leaving mine.

Ooff! Damn, Wufei, you're heavy!

No! It's too much, it's too fast! I don't want to hurt him! What should I do? What should I do?

While his mouth is taking my breath away, his hands are not idle. They are pinning my wrists to the side, then running up my arms until they reach my shoulders, slowly running down my front and--

!!!

Shit! Oh my--!

When Wufei finally lets me breathe, I gasp. And my brain turns into a ball of goo the moment he smirks at me and lowers his head to one of my nipples.

Oh my. Oh my. I think I'm on fire, I can't speak, I can't think, all I can do is close my eyes and... moan.

Wufei is a devious... and delicious bastard. He does it again and again, until I'm about to explode, then simply stops; I take the opportunity to catch my breath. Opening my eyes, I soon feel them widening when I realize he took off his own shirt while his mouth was on my chest. And, at the same time his hands reach the elastic waistband of my boxers, I feel a very specific hardness against one of my legs.

"STOP!!!"

Damn, I sound pathetic! Wufei freezes, and I take the chance to slip out from under his body. I lie on my side, back turned to him.

"I-I'm sorry, Wufei, but I... I can't--"

"...No, Duo... I'm the one who must apologize. You weren't ready for this, and I pushed you too far..." An awkward moment of silence. "I... think I'd better leave now."

Turning around, I whisper, "Wufei?"

He's already off the bed. "Yes, Duo?"

I hold my breath. "Would you... would you stay here with me?"

He looks surprised at me, then smiles. "Would you... let me hold you?"

Sighing in relief, I nod. Wufei comes to the bed again and we cuddle up, my head on his chest and one of his arms around my waist. I pull the blanket up and settle to sleep.

I don't have the slightest idea why I asked him to stay with me, but I don't regret it. It's nice being held while you sleep by someone who claims to care about you.

Still, something bothers me.

How can he love someone he doesn't know?

***

A loud noise wakes me up. I sit bolt upright on the bed, mindless of the fact Wufei's arm was suddenly pushed away and that the blanket slipped down to my waist.

The only thing I can see is the wide-eyed Heero Yuy standing at my now open door.

He narrows his eyes, looks at my naked upper body, at the waking Wufei's similarly bare chest, and turns to leave, slamming the door behind him with unnecessary force.

Wufei is now fully awake. Raising an eyebrow, he turns to me. "What was that?"

Blushing, I cover myself up and shake my head. "It was Heero. I... I think he saw us like this and got the wrong idea."

*Knock, knock* "Duo? Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, Quatre."

"What's wrong with Hee--" As soon as Quatre opens the door and takes a look inside, his eyes widen and he turns an interesting shade of red. "Wufei?! Oh, I'm so sorry!" He hastily backs up and closes the door; I can hear him running down the hall and can't help but chuckle.

A slight movement by my side reminds me there's someone else in the room. "Wufei--"

He hands me my clothes and turns his back to me. As soon as I finish dressing, he turns to face me again. "Duo, I... I'm terribly sorry for last night. I got a bit too desperate, and went too far. Can... can you forgive me?"

I smile at him. "Yes, I can. You caught me a bit off-guard... but you did stop when I told you to. Wufei, last night... it felt good..." I feel myself blushing again, and this time Wufei notices; the bastard is smirking! Sobering up, I continue, "but... I think I need some time to think things over. I never really thought about a relationship like this before."

Wufei gets serious again, and puts a hand on my shoulder. "I understand, Duo. Last night... I tried to overwhelm you with sensation before you could think about what I told you. And I'm really sorry. I just want you to think carefully about this, and to know that I'll respect your decision, whatever it will be."

I nod at him, grateful. I was afraid he would get hurt by my indecision and decide to keep away. After quickly straightening my hair and clothes in front of the mirror, I'm ready to face the world. Namely two boys who opened the wrong door at the wrong time. "We'd better find the others and tell them they got the wrong idea."

Wufei snorts. "I don't really care about what they think, Duo." At my pointed look, he gives up. "All right, if you want so."

When we get down, both Quatre and Heero are eating breakfast. Both look up when we sit at the table, but Heero quickly gets up and leaves. I look at Wufei, but he simply shrugs.

After a silent breakfast, I go in search of Heero. But try as I might, I simply can't find him. Coming back to the house, I find Quatre in the living room, alone. I sit beside him. "Hey, Quatre. Have you seen Heero around?"

He shakes his head. "Not since breakfast. He looked very upset." After a pause, he adds, "Duo, I'm sorry about this morning. I had no idea you and Wufei--"

I interrupt him. "I wanted to talk to you about it. Quatre, it's not what you think. Wufei and I... well, we... err... he said he loves me."

Quatre looks surprised. "Really? And you got together yesterday?"

What?! "Quatre, we are *not* together!" At his confused look, I decide to tell things in detail. "What I mean is... well, he came to my room and told me he loved me, then he started kissing me... But only that! I know you saw us half-naked in bed but... when things got a bit too... err... far... I told him to stop, and he did. We slept together, but we didn't... have sex." Damn, I'm blushing again!

Quatre seems pensive for a moment. "What about you?"

"Huh?"

"Do you love Wufei?"

Do I love Wufei? "I don't know if I *love* him, Quatre. I know I like him, but then again I like you all. Hell, I even like Heero!"

"He likes you."

I'm caught off-guard again. "What?"

"Heero. He likes you."

Snorting, I give Quatre a 'what-have-you-been-smoking-lately?' look. "Yeah, I know. Heero's been after my body ever since I first met him. But I still don't know if he wants it already dead or if he wants to kill it himself."

"Duo!"

"Aw, come on, Quatre! The guy hates my guts!"

He raises a blonde eyebrow at me. "If I remember correctly, you once said the same thing about Wufei. And now the same Wufei says he loves you."

"But Wufei only ignored me. He never went out of his way to needle me or made snide remarks, like Heero does."

"Perhaps that's his way of dealing with his feelings."

I snort again. "Yeah, keep dreaming. It would make more sense if you simply said he has no feelings at all."

"You don't really mean it."

"I don't know what I mean. I... I'm confused. Quatre, how can he love me?"

"What?"

"...I would have understood if Wufei had told me he had the hots for my body, or even had a small crush on me... But he said he was absolutely sure it was love. How can Wufei love a person he doesn't know? We all work together, we have the same goal... but we hardly know each other." I pause for an instant. "Of all the guys, you are the one I know best, Quatre. And even then, I know you don't tell me everything, the same way I don't tell you everything -- which is obvious from these last days' mess. How can love be possible?"

"Have you told Wufei any of this?"

"No, I didn't want him to think I was doubting his feelings."

"But you *are*, Duo. And if you really want the answer, you have to ask him."

Sighing, I look down. "Guess you're right, Quatre. I'd better go find him, then." I get up and turn around. I quickly get a glimpse of Heero passing by, entering the house. I debate on whether going after him or talking with Wufei first, and decide on the latter.

I find Wufei outside, sitting under a tree. I plop down beside him and sigh. "Wufei? Can we talk?"

He gives me a sideways glance, then nods. "Have you talked to the others?"

"Only Quatre, I didn't find Heero."

"I already talked to Heero."

I look at him. "Really? What have you told him?"

Wufei shifts in his place. "That I told you my feelings, you accepted them and asked for some time to think things over."

I raise an eyebrow. "You didn't tell him nothing happened last night."

"No." A pause, then, "Duo? Why are you so worried about what Heero or Quatre think happened between us?"

I shake my head. "It's just... I don't want anyone making assumptions about things I'm not even sure myself, Wufei. Quatre was already thinking waaay ahead in there." I gesture toward the house. I look at him, and realize why he's uncomfortable. "Look, Wufei... it's not because of you, honest! It's me."

He turns to face me. "What about you, Duo?"

"I... Wufei, I don't want you to think I'm doubting you, but how can you be so sure you love me?" I see the hurt in his eyes, and try to explain. "I need to know, Wufei. I have to know because I don't understand what I'm feeling right now."

He thinks for a while. "You want me to tell you what I'm feeling so you can compare it to what *you* feel." That's not exactly right, but near enough. I nod, and he goes on. "I like you, Duo. I care about you, worry when you're in danger... I want to hold you whenever I can, snuggle, kiss you... I want to know you better and spend a long time with you."

"But you don't know the real me."

He slowly nods. "True. Duo, I may not know you completely, but I *do* know a little about you. And I fell for this little bit. Love is a constant learning, we try everyday to learn more about the one we love. Sometimes we can't adapt to what we learn, or simply don't like it, and the love starts fading away; but other times the more we learn, the more we love."

"So you're trying to tell me that you love me now but may not still love me in... say, five years' time."

"It's a possibility. Many couples hopelessly in love fall apart after the initial sparkle is gone, and others start just as friends and end up together for life."

"What's the point, then?"

"The point is, we have to live the moment. I don't know if I'll still be in love with you in five years' time... but I do know that at this moment I love you enough to want to spend the rest of my life with you. To make plans for the future and fight for them."

I shake my head. "I don't want any more uncertainties, Wufei, my life is already uncertain enough as it is. I'm sorry, but... I don't think I know about you enough to dive in this headfirst."

"Then perhaps we could try it in a different way, Duo. Why don't we try to learn more about each other, just as friends, before we take another step? That way you can have enough time to think things over."

I look him in the eye. "Do you want to do this?"

He smiles, a bit sadly. "That's not what I really wanted, but it will do. I'll be patient, and wait for you. I know that, if you decide to come to me, it will be worth the wait."

I hesitate a bit, then hug him lightly. "Thanks, Wufei. I don't want to lose you as a friend."

He returns the hug. "You'd never lose me as a friend, Duo."

After a moment, I back up. "Well, if we are to know each other a little better, I think we could start it by talking a bit. Don't you?"

"Sure. What would you like to talk about?"

I think a bit. Well, if he really wants to know about the real me, I think I should tell him the truth about my preferences... this way he won't be able to blame me if it doesn't work. "Remember when I told you about how I used to think I was a boy?" Wufei nods. "Well... because of that, I never really thought about boys *that* way... do you understand me? I really believed I was male, so I always looked at the girls instead.

"When I was eleven I had my first crush: I fell for a girl from a small gang I hanged out with. I still thought of myself as a boy, so it was no big deal. Some time later I admitted to myself I was a girl, but even then I fell for another woman. That's when I figured I liked girls better."

He looks me in the eye. "You're saying you're lesbian."

I nod.

After a brief pause, Wufei speaks up. "I was raised in a very traditional environment. Tradition was so important to us that even our marriages were arranged: the best way to keep our roots. So, as you can imagine, I was very narrow-minded when it came to certain things. Sex was one of them.

"I was raised to believe women were weak and could do nothing without men to order them around; that's why when I married Meiran we argued so much. But with time, she started proving to me it was not true. I know sometimes I still slip on the subject, but believe me, I'm not half as male chauvinist as I used to be."

He smiles at me. "As for you... I was also raised with the belief homosexuality was an aberration, something to be frowned upon. When I realized I was falling for you, I was simply devastated. I thought I was a dishonor to my people, to my dead wife and to my Gundam. I stopped fighting for a while, thinking a dishonorable freak shouldn't try for justice.

"Then I was told something interesting: that I shouldn't act according to what others expected from me, but according to what I expected from myself. I expected myself to bring justice, so I decided to do just that. And I found out that despite the fact I loved another man, I was no less of a pilot than the four of you."

I nod again, and look down. Wufei puts a hand under my chin and lifts my head up, once more making eye contact. "I considered myself straight until I fell for you. That was when I realized that when we love someone, we love that person's soul, not gender. I think the same about you, Duo: you say you're a lesbian just because you haven't yet found a worthy soul in a male's body. The moment you do, you won't consider yourself lesbian anymore."

Is it true? Have I been thinking wrongly the whole time?

I don't know... Shaking my head, I get up. "I... I think I need some time to think this out, Wufei. Why don't we talk a little more... but later?"

He nods, then stands. "If you want so, Duo. I'll see you later, okay?"

"Okay..." Wufei then turns and goes away. I stay just like that for some moments, then head into the house.

When I get back to my room, I see several sheets of paper on my bed. I take them up and read what's printed, and feel my eyes widening at each word.

It's a preliminary report from the captain of the base Trowa and Wufei infiltrated to one of his superiors. In it, he says the damage of the network connecting both the school and the base would throw back their schedule, since the technician responsible for backing up all their info was supposed to get to the school only some weeks later (Technician? It must be the computer programmer Mr. Tsukino said would go to help him!).

The report goes on, stating the extension of the problem, what have been done to try and repair the network before any permanent damage, who was sent to investigate both the base and the school, and the results of their investigation.

*That* is the part that interests me! And, to my utter relief, I read that their investigation showed up all problems came from within the base. The soldiers responsible for the base's computers were accused of negligence and discharged, and since the civilian who worked in the school wasn't there anymore when the problem happened and doesn't even know about it, he is to be left alone.

I sigh in relief. It was a good thing Mr. Tsukino decided to leave his job... Had he been present when it happened, perhaps the soldiers would want to interrogate him.

But... who would have left this report in here?

The answer is clear enough... Heero.

It seems he thought about what I said in that school... and it also seems he's not as heartless as I accused him of being.

Should I go apologize to him?

...Nah...

But I think I *do* have to change some of my concepts regarding Heero... Who knows? Perhaps I've been thinking wrongly of him all this time...

 

 
Owari!

So, how did it go? Hope you liked it! Keep an eye out for the sequels, starting with 'Interlude One: Our Thoughts'!